- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Bush yesterday expressed confidence that one of his chief allies in the war on terrorism, Pervez Musharraf, is effectively hunting down terrorists in his country and said the Pakistani leader has taken steps to move his nation toward democracy.

However, Mr. Bush said he opposes offering Pakistan the same kind of civilian nuclear agreement that the United States reached with India just days earlier, citing the archrivals’ “different needs and different histories.”

It was a day filled with official meetings, joint press conferences, a cricket match and a lavish state dinner, and Mr. Bush sought to bolster his ally.

The two leaders, who joined forces after the September 11 attacks, renewed their alliance in the war on terrorism during a joint press conference at the presidential palace, in front of a reflecting pool complete with paddling ducks and floating floral arrangements.

“Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the president is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice, and he is,” Mr. Bush said of the Pakistani president.

During Mr. Bush’s visit to the capital yesterday, pro-Taliban tribesmen and Pakistani security forces engaged in a fierce battle near the border with Afghanistan. Dozens of militants were reported killed in the clash when the military struck at a location that government officials think the militants had used as a hide-out.

“It’s very clear that the intentions of Pakistan, and my intentions, are very clear that … we have a strong partnership on the issue of fighting terrorism,” Gen. Musharraf said.

The Pakistani government says it has arrested about 700 al Qaeda suspects in the past four years. But key al Qaeda leaders are still thought to be at large within its borders — including Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of being in hiding in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pakistani president, who has survived three assassination attempts since his nation abandoned its support for the Taliban, acknowledged problems translating strategy into action.

“If at all there are slippages, it is possible in the implementation part,” Gen. Musharraf said. But, he said, “We are moving forward toward delivering, and we will succeed.”

Earlier yesterday, the two leaders discussed Pakistan’s desire for nuclear energy help from the United States, as India would get under a deal that was announced Thursday.

As part of that agreement, which requires approval from Congress, the United States would provide nuclear reactors, technology and other material to India in exchange for its acceptance of international safeguards.

While acknowledging that Pakistan has energy needs, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We can address energy needs on different terms.”

The former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program — Abdul Qadeer Khan — led a black-market operation that funneled weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

While there was no agreement on a nuclear deal, Mr. Bush did praise Gen. Musharraf for his commitment to democratic reforms.

“We spent a lot of time discussing democracy in Pakistan, and I believe democracy is Pakistan’s future,” he said.

Gen. Musharraf said that many democratic reforms already have taken place and said more are likely after next year’s elections.

“We have introduced the essence of democracy now in Pakistan. … Let me assure you that democracy will prevail,” he said.

Gen. Musharraf, who wore a pinstripe suit yesterday, also answered criticism about the military uniform he frequently wears. The general, who seized control of the country in a bloodless coup seven years ago, said the practice conforms with “constitutional norms,” but said it could change after the elections next year.

“Beyond 2007, this is an issue that has to be addressed and according to the constitution of Pakistan, and I will never violate the constitution,” he said.

Later yesterday, Mr. Bush tried his hand at a cricket, a popular sport in Pakistan.

The president, an avid baseball fan, batted and bowled several times on a practice cricket pitch set up on the U.S. Embassy grounds in Islamabad.

At a state dinner last night, Mr. Bush joked about his cricket skills.

“I was fooled by a googly,” he said, referring to a tricky delivery of a cricket ball.

The president departed after the state dinner for Washington, where he is scheduled to arrive this morning.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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