By Kathleen T. Rhem
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2006 – The United States and Pakistan are partners in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and in fighting extremists and terrorists in the region around Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, the U.S. and Pakistani presidents said in a White House news conference today. "We're on the hunt together," President Bush said following a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. "It's in the president's interest that al Qaeda be brought to justice. And it's in our interests. And we collaborate, and we strategize, and we talk a lot about how best to do this."
Musharraf disputed media reports that a deal he struck with tribal leaders in remote parts of Pakistan would allow al Qaeda and Taliban fighters to operate there with impunity. He said the deal actually strengthens efforts to stop extremists and terrorists in the region of northwestern Pakistan known as Waziristan. "This treaty is not to deal with the Taliban; it is actually to fight the Taliban," Musharraf said. "This is a political side of the holistic strategy, the holistic strategy being the military arm being used, the political element, an administrative element and a reconstruction element. So we want to move on all these aspects forward."
In this deal, Musharraf explained, tribal elders of the North Waziristan agency agree to halt al Qaeda and Taliban activity in the region and to prevent "Talibanization" there. "And when they sign the deal, they are honor-bound -- and they have a very strict honor code -- to not only abide by it, but also, that whoever violates it, they move against them," Musharraf said.
Bush and Musharraf discussed the deal in their meeting. "When the president looks me in the eye and says the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people and that there won't be a Taliban and there won't be al Qaeda (there), I believe him," Bush said. Musharraf stressed that his country's security forces would move against bin Laden if they found him. "If at all we confront him, if at all we find out his location, we are quite clear what to do," he said. Musharraf went on to say that U.S. and Pakistani forces coordinate closely on the intelligence, strategic and operational levels.
Pakistan has proven to be a close U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. Musharraf pledged his country's support shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and U.S. and Pakistani intelligence assets have worked closely since then. The United States provided tons of aid supplies and military and medical assistance following a magnitude 7.6 earthquake killed more than 76,000 people in Pakistan in October 2005.
"All in all, we've had yet another good meeting between people who are able to speak frankly with each other and people who share the common desire for people to live in security and peace," Bush said after today's meeting.