Pakistan's Musharraf wins backing from Sarkozy
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won pledges of support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called for free, transparent and safe elections next month
PARIS, January 22, 2008 - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday
won pledges of support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called for
free, transparent and safe elections next month in the nation hit by unrest.
Musharraf met with Sarkozy on the second leg of a European tour aimed at
shoring up his battered image after months of turmoil and the assassination of
opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last month.
"France will continue to provide its full support in the fight against
terrorism, because France and the world have an interest in stability, unity
and democracy-building in Pakistan," said Elysee spokesman David Martinon.
"The only response to terrorism and terrorists is holding elections in the
best possible conditions, with freedom, plurality, transparency and security,"
added Sarkozy's spokesman.
After his Elysee meeting, Musharraf told journalists he had an "excellent
exchange of views" with Sarkozy on terrorism and their countries' bilateral
"I must say President Sarkozy is a great friend," he said.
"He appreciates the conditions in Pakistan, he understands the difficulties
that we are facing and I must say that I'm extremely impressed by his vision
of our relationship and his vision toward fighting terrorism and extremism in
Sarkozy told Musharraf that France would seek more economic aid for
Pakistan when it takes over the six-month presidency of the European Union in
July, according to an Elysee official.
Musharraf earlier dismissed fears that his nuclear-armed country could slip
into Al-Qaeda's hands, saying there was a "zero percent chance" of a takeover
by Islamic extremists.
Addressing a foreign policy institute, he insisted it was impossible for
militants to gain access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
The only way for that to happen, he said, would be if Al-Qaeda or the
Taliban "defeated the Pakistani army entirely" or if extremist religious
groups won next month's elections.
"There is a zero percent chance of either one of them," Musharraf said.
"They (the weapons) cannot fall into any wrong hands."
Months of unrest and Bhutto's assassination have crystallized fears in the
West that Pakistan risks spinning out of control.
Musharraf pledged that elections postponed after Bhutto was killed and now
scheduled for February 18 would be "free and fair" and added: "We will make
sure they are peaceful."
Regularly accused of failing to keep a lid on extremists, Musharraf
rejected suggestions Al-Qaeda could take advantage of the situation to seize
control of the country.
"We don't think it is possible that this Al-Qaeda or Taliban can take over
in Pakistan," Musharraf told the French Institute of International Relations
(IFRI). "We cannot be defeated like this."
Islamic militants launched new attacks on forts on the border between
Afghanistan and Pakistan Tuesday, leaving seven troops and 37 rebels dead.
Musharraf has been keen to bolster his credibility as a pivotal ally in the
fight against terrorism following Bhutto's assassination, blamed on Al-Qaeda
and allies of tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner earlier this month became the first
high-ranking foreign official to visit Pakistan after Bhutto's murder and
offered French and European help in investigating her killing.
Pakistan has said it was open to international help but has rejected calls
for a United Nations inquiry into the assassination.
Musharraf arrived in Paris from Brussels and travels later Tuesday to
Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum. He is to meet US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the Davos forum on
He wraps up his European tour in London on Saturday.