By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers, May 30, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Bush reached out Friday to support longtime ally Pervez Musharraf, calling the embattled Pakistani president to assure him of continued U.S. backing.
Musharraf’s demise is now considered almost a foregone conclusion in Pakistan, but Bush’s intervention appeared to be a powerful signal that Washington wouldn’t welcome Musharraf’s exit.
“The president reiterated the United States’ strong support for Pakistan, and he indicated he looked forward to President Musharraf’s continuing role in further strengthening U.S.-Pakistani relations,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in Washington.
Pakistan is abuzz with speculation that Musharraf’s attempts to cling to power have collapsed as his enemies step up their attacks and even his supposed allies have gone silent. The rumors reached fever pitch in the last few days with stories of a rift between the president and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, forcing Musharraf to deny any differences with the military.
“This (Bush call) is a shoring up, an effort to demonstrate continued support,” said Dan Markey, a former State Department official who’s now at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, a nonpartisan research center. “I have heard no serious rumblings of a change from the Bush administration on Musharraf. My impression is that they feel that there is not a lot to gain from losing this ally now, as they would get no credit for it.”
Pakistan’s fragile coalition government, which came to power after elections in February, has taken an increasingly hard line against Musharraf, who rose to power in a 1999 military coup.
Under Pakistan’s original constitution, power is supposed to rest with the prime minister and his government, with the president merely a ceremonial head of state. Musharraf has balked at the government’s attempts to cut the powers he’s awarded himself, especially the ability to dismiss parliament and appoint the army chief.