- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Repeatedly paying homage to his assassinated wife, new President Asif Ali Zardari declared Tuesday that he has a comprehensive plan to fight terrorism and said Pakistan’s people are behind him.

Mr. Zardari, elected by legislators Saturday, was long on platitudes but short on specifics while meeting with media after taking the oath of office in a short ceremony at the presidential palace. He was chosen to replace Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally who resigned under pressure last month.

With President Hamid Karzai of neighboring Afghanistan by his side for a news conference, the widower of former two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said he hoped to turn Pakistan’s negatives into positives.

“As far as America is concerned, the fact that we are on the globe and we are in the eye of the storm, I consider that an opportunity,” Mr. Zardari said, noting that most countries welcome foreign investment.

“I intend to take that and make it our strength. We intend to take the world with us in developing the future of Pakistan and changing the future of our neighbors,” he said.

Mr. Karzai said he found common ground with Mr. Zardari.

“For each step that you take in the war against terrorism for bringing peace to two countries, for bringing stability to two countries, Afghanistan will take many, many steps with you,” he said.

The United States came to depend heavily on Mr. Musharraf for cooperation to capture or kill al Qaeda leaders who plotted the Sept. 11 attacks and fled Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime.

However, the Taliban revived on Mr. Musharraf’s watch, and al Qaeda chiefs Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri remain on the run, probably somewhere in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Washington has increasingly taken matters into its own hands in recent weeks, with controversy erupting every time civilians become casualties. Missile strikes in Pakistan’s northwest have killed dozens, and U.S.-led forces last week took part in a helicopter-backed ground assault that killed at least 15.

“Regrettably, there will be times when our pursuit of the enemy will result in accidental civilian deaths,” President Bush, who spoke by phone Tuesday with Mr. Zardari, said in a speech.

The unilateral actions have sparked a public backlash, including official protests. Many Pakistanis oppose their country’s role in the war on terrorism, and blame it for fanning religious extremism.

The 53-year-old Mr. Zardari, whose wife was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack in December, is trying to convince them that the war on terrorism is their battle, not just Washington’s.

While Mr. Zardari clearly wanted to take a strong stance on the issue, he quickly tried to separate himself from the increasingly autocratic methods that Mr. Musharraf employed.

“You are too used to a dictatorial president,” Mr. Zardari said in reply to a reporter’s question. He has vowed to return some of the powers to parliament that were eroded under Mr. Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

He said it would be up to legislators to decide whether to grant Mr. Musharraf indemnity from any criminal acts committed in office.

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