US threat to bomb us back into the Stone Age

THE United States threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" after the 11 September terrorist attacks if it did not back the war on terrorism, its president, Pervez Musharraf, claimed just hours after a meeting with George Bush yesterday.

The Pakistani leader said Richard Armitage, the then US deputy secretary of state, had made the "insulting" and "very rude" comment to his intelligence director as US officials worked to build an alliance against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

The US president said yesterday that he was "taken aback" by the purported US threat and Mr Armitage said that while he did have a "tough message" for Pakistan - it was either "with or against us" - he insisted he had not threatened to bomb the country.

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Speaking in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes programme, which will be broadcast tomorrow, Mr Musharraf said: "The intelligence director told me that [Armitage] said: 'Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.' It was insulting. I think it was a very rude remark."

The Pakistani leader said he believed he had acted in the correct way when he decided to become one of the US's strongest allies in the region, despite hostility towards the US and outright support for the Taleban in parts of Pakistan.

"One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation, and that is what I did," Mr Musharraf said.

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said that while he did not know personally what Mr Armitage, who is no longer a member of Mr Bush's administration, had said, the man himself had denied Mr Musharraf's claim.

"Mr Armitage has said that he made no such representations," Mr Snow said.

"I don't know. This could have been a classic failure to communicate. I just don't know.

"US policy was not to issue bombing threats. US policy was to say to President Musharraf, 'We need you to make a choice'."

His choice was clear yesterday as he stood beside Mr Bush at a press conference in the White House.

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Mr Bush said he was surprised by Mr Musharraf's claims and praised him for being one of the first foreign leaders after the 11 September attacks to stand with the US to "help root out an enemy".

"The first I heard of this is when I read it in the newspaper," he said.

"I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words."

Mr Bush has repeatedly praised Pakistan, which is the world's second-biggest Islamic country, with a population of 160 million, for arresting hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives inside its borders since the start of the war on terror.

But the US has also urged Pakistan to do more to stop militants from crossing from its tribal regions into Afghanistan, where Taleban-inspired violence has reached its deadliest since the American-led invasion that toppled the hard-line regime.

Pakistan earlier this month signed a truce with leading tribal figures.

But Mr Musharraf told the press conference that the peace treaty with tribes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was meant to undermine the Taleban, not support it.

"The deal is not at all with the Taleban. This deal is against the Taleban. This deal is with the tribal elders," he said.

Mr Bush said that the president had looked him in the eye and vowed that "the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talebanisation of the people and that there won't be a Taleban and there won't be al-Qaeda [in Pakistan]."

And Mr Bush added: "I believe him."

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Afghanistan has protested that the militants are linked to the Taleban, but both Mr Bush and Mr Musharraf shrugged off such links and said they were united in pursuing terrorists, especially bin Laden.

"When we find Osama bin Laden, he will be brought to justice. We are on the hunt together," Mr Bush said.

Mr Musharraf echoed those remarks, emphasising that however rude Mr Armitage's alleged comments had been, the relationship between the two countries was still strong.

"We are in the hunt together against these people," the Pakistani leader said.

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