US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had not been in contact with her before announcing his decision to resign even as she continued to praise him for being a 'good ally' of the United States.
In an interaction with media persons en route to Brussels for a meeting of NATO countries to review the situation in Georgia in the wake of the Russian invasion of its tiny neighbour, Rice said, "He was not in touch with me. (But) I am not aware that he was in touch with the US Government. But I can't vouch for that, given that I have been flying."
Rice reiterated that "President Musharraf took his country a long way, turning it back from extremism that was starting to characterize it at the time of September 11, 2001."
"He also kept his promise to try and help transition (Pakistan) to free and fair elections," she added.
Rice acknowledged, "We didn't agree with everything that he did, especially the state of emergency, but he did take off the uniform. The elections were free and fair and he served as a good ally for the United States."
She said, "We have long stood for the transition to democracy there, and we have established very good relations with the democratically-elected government. And, we have a lot of work to do to support them economically, politically, and in security terms so that they can fight the terrorists and the militants who threaten not only American interest, but threaten very much Pakistani interest, as shown by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto by militants."
Asked if the Administration was concerned over the possible power vacuum with the exit of Musharraf and that it could exacerbate instability in Pakistan and a possible descent into chaos, Rice agreed, "Obviously, it's a fragile situation in Pakistan because it's a new civilian government for the first time in a long time in Pakistan, since 1999 (when Musharraf overthrew then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup)".
"And, so, our effort is to support that government, strengthen it," the Secretary said, and added, "We have very detailed discussions going on within the G-7, for instance, on economic support for Pakistan of the kind that the Prime Minister asked for when he was in Washington with the President."
Rice said consequently, "It is our intention and it's the intention of our allies as well to do everything that we can to strengthen that government," but reiterated, "Obviously, it's a difficult and fragile time, but it is an elected government. I think it has fabulous support, and that's a lot to build on."
On reports that Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kiyani has complained privately that he doesn't have anyone to negotiate with and is not aware of the Pakistani government's policy on terrorism -- a refrain of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai too -- Rice refused to subscribe to the contention that the current situation is a manifestation of a lack of "any real leadership in Pakistan."
"I don't subscribe to the notion that there's not leadership in Pakistan," she argued, and pointed out, "There's a democratically elected prime minister of Pakistan. There a government that came into being as a coalition and it's had its difficulties internally. We've made the point to the Pakistanis that they need to focus intensely and intensively on what is going on in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), as well as the militants' increasing capability, and, it appears, willingness to attack targets outside of the FATA, not to mention what's going on the other side of the border."
Rice said these points have all been made forcefully to the Pakistani government and added, "We have very good military-to-military ties. We have very good cooperation and discussions through multiple channels."
She noted, "We have had a number of American high-ranking military officials in Pakistan recently," but continued to acknowledge, "Ultimately, as I said, it's a fragile situation with a new government."
Rice expressed optimism, "We believe that this new government can succeed in taking on these terrorists. We've talked about some of the strategies. We think that the strategy of trying to negotiate in the FATA has not demonstrated results and we've been very clear about that."
"But, it is a government that has been elected by the Pakistani people and we're going to do everything we can to strengthen it and continue working with it," she added.