- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

12:55 p.m.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today praised two key allies in the fight against terrorism who are sometimes at odds, calling Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai two leaders the world is lucky to have.

But, Miss Rice added, she expects Pakistan’s military leader to fulfill his promise to hold democratic elections next year.

“There has to be, the world expects there to be, democratic, free and fair elections in Pakistan in 2007,” Miss Rice said, speaking to reporters en route to a meeting with Gen. Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 and has refused to give up his army uniform.

Miss Rice plans to see Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan tomorrow for talks on that country’s political progress and the international military campaign to quell terrorism in the south.

She also planned to meet with counterparts from the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Moscow on Thursday, where the topic is expected to be Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Gen. Musharraf became an unlikely ally of the Bush administration following the September 11, 2001, attacks when he pledged cooperation against terrorists who passed easily between Pakistan and the lawless Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has come an enormously long way in a period of four years,” Miss Rice told reporters aboard her plane. “We are fortunate there, too, that you have a leadership that is committed to putting Pakistan on a course toward moderation rather than a course toward extremism.”

Miss Rice had even stronger praise for Mr. Karzai, who has criticized Pakistan for not doing enough to go after terrorists along the mountainous border between the two nations. A clearly frustrated Mr. Karzai last week also criticized the U.S.-assisted coalition’s anti-terror campaign in his chaotic country, deploring the deaths of hundreds of Afghans and appealing for more help for his government. The coalition has killed hundreds, mostly Taliban militants, since May.

“This is an extraordinary leader, and we’re going to back him and back him fully,” Miss Rice said. “When he has problems, we’re going to sit with him, and we’re going to find ways to resolve those problems. But any implication that anybody thinks that he is somehow not up to the job or not living up to his responsibilities is simply false.”

Gen. Musharraf faces little political opposition within Pakistan but lives under constant threat of assassination. Mr. Karzai is increasingly embattled, hard-pressed to extend his political control into many regions of Afghanistan and facing a resurgence of the radical Taliban movement toppled by U.S.-led forces four years ago.

Taliban forces have been blamed for a surge of violence in recent months, adopting methods commonly used by militants in Iraq: suicide bombings, ambushes and beheadings.

In an effort to curb the bloodletting, about 10,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition have been deployed in a major offensive across the Afghanistan’s south.

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