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White House defends President Musharraf

This came after a leading US daily suggested that Pakistan's peace deal with tribal leaders in Waziristan may be at the expense of Americans.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2006 11:42 IST

Even as a leading US daily suggested that Pakistan's peace deal with tribal leaders in North Waziristan may be at the expense of Americans, the White House defended President Pervez Musharraf as a "valuable ally".

"Musharraf has been very helpful in the war on terror, and he's taking considerable political risks to do so. We appreciate that.

He is an extremely valuable ally in the war on terror, and we consider him such," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters on Wednesday.

As the hunt for Osama bin Laden and others has been filtering across borders, US understands the obligations of sovereign governments, and is working with General Musharraf to do what he can, he said in reply to a question about what Musharraf was doing to help find the Al-Qaeda leader.

However, Washington Post suggested that the cost of Musharraf's peace deal will be borne by American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, whose commanders already say that the ability of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters to retreat to Pakistan greatly complicates the challenge of defeating their escalating attacks.

"So why did Vice President Cheney call Musharraf 'a great ally' just days after his separate peace?" the influential daily asked editorially and suggested "Administration officials seem more willing to forgive their autocratic friend than they are domestic critics of the war on terrorism."

Noting that Secretary of Defence Donald H Rumsfeld didn't say who he was thinking of when he warned in a controversial speech last month about people who think that "countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists", the daily said, "In fact the most obvious candidate is that enduring favourite of the Bush administration, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf".

Musharraf, whose country has been the main base for leaders of both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban since 2002, last week concluded a peace deal with tribal leaders in North Waziristan, a territory near the border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistani strongman agreed to withdraw his army from the area and release prisoners in exchange for promises by militants not to attack the Pakistani army or set up a parallel government.

The Pakistani tribesmen also promised to stop cross-border attacks into Afghanistan and to disarm the many foreign terrorists in their midst. But few analysts expect them to follow through on those pledges, the Washington Post said.

Instead, both North and South Waziristan - where a similar truce was agreed on earlier - are likely to become territories where members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban operate without fear of challenge.

Why would Musharraf strike this deal? The simple answer is that his army was defeated in its attempt to eliminate the Al-Qaeda sanctuary by force.

Since launching the campaign in 2003, the army has suffered more than 500 killed, the American daily said.

Musharraf, who tried to dress up his manoeuvre by visiting Afghanistan the next day, said he was worried about a full-scale uprising in the area.

Though he didn't say so, the general is surely hoping that the truce will add to his personal security: He has survived at least two assassination attempts by Al-Qaeda.

But the cost of Musharraf's decision will be borne by American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, the Washington Post concluded.