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Powell Confident Musharraf is Committed to Democracy

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a VOA interview on the 9-11 anniversary, has paid tribute to Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf's support for the war against terrorism, though he says the United States is concerned about his unilateral amendments to the country's constitution.

The Pakistani leader emerged as a key figure early on in the war on terrorism, giving the United States access to bases in his country for operations against al-Qaida and the Taleban in neighboring Afghanistan. And in his wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Powell credited him with making the right choices in siding with the Bush administration on the terror war and in his cooperation with U.S. efforts to ease tensions with India over Kashmir.

"President Musharraf did take a big gamble when we went to him last September and said, 'you know, you're really going to have to make a choice.' And he made the choice, he made the right choice to move against the Taleban and move against al-Qaida," said Mr. Powell. "And he also made a choice at that time and in the months that followed, when we had the crisis between Pakistan and India to end cross-border terrorism across the 'Line of Control' in Kashmir."

The Secretary of State reiterated concerns expressed by an administration spokesman about constitutional changes the Pakistani leader imposed August 21 that, among other things, give him the right to dissolve the parliament that will be elected in upcoming national elections. But saying the Pakistani leader is engaged in a "delicate balancing act" and facing tough choices and judgements, Mr. Powell said he is confident Mr. Musharraf is committed to democracy.

"There are some areas where we have expressed our concerns to him with respect to the democratization process, some of the constitutional amendments that he has put in place by decree are causing us a little bit of concern and we're sharing those concerns with him," says Mr. Powell. "But my own view, having spent a lot of time with him and worked very closely with him, is that I believe he is committed to fully returning Pakistan to democracy, he is committed to ending cross-border terrorism. We don't have a complete success yet in any of these areas, but we hope that we can be helpful to President Musharraf as he moves down this path."

The Bush administration, as it downplayed the constitutional changes, has stressed the importance of the October 10 elections, which will choose a new Pakistani parliament and provincial legislatures.