Despite the recent pullback of Pakistani troops from tribal areas where some believe Osama bin Laden may be hiding, US President George W. Bush told Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, on Saturday that the troops had "been incredibly active and very brave" in rooting out al-Qaeda terrorists.
The comments came in a rare visit to the White House by a foreign leader, during a stopover on Musharraf's way to Britain.
"The president has been a determined leader to bring to justice not only people like Osama bin Laden," Bush said, "but to bring to justice those who would inflict harm and pain on his own people."
"Remember, this is a man whose life had been threatened by, and still is threatened by, al-Qaeda leadership," he said, referring to the two assassination attempts on Musharraf last year.
Bush's comments were a continuation of the White House's strategy of using visits like this to bolster Musharraf's leadership and to play down the tensions between the US and Pakistan.
Those tensions have grown more acute, despite the public pronouncements. White House and intelligence agency officials complain that the flow of information from Pakistan about the nuclear smuggling network built by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, has slowed to a trickle. Musharraf has refused to allow the US or the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear monitoring body, to interview Khan directly, insisting that they pass along questions to Khan through Pakistani officials.
Many US officials believe that is a way of filtering both the questions and the answers, perhaps to make sure that no current government or military officials are implicated in an investigation into the network's role in arming Iran, North Korea and Libya.
"Everyone knows that this reaches well into the Pakistani leadership," one European diplomat involved in the investigation said last week, "and the Pakistanis are being very careful."
But a senior administration official said on Saturday that Bush raised the issue only obliquely, asking Musharraf to assure that there was continued cooperation. The official said Musharraf "didn't seem aware that there was any problem," and promised to look into it. There was apparently no direct discussion of Musharraf's decision not to give up his role as the head of the Pakistani military, as he had promised more than a year ago. Bush used the visit on Saturday, in fact, to praise the expansion of democracy in the country.
"There are some in the world who do not believe that a Muslim society can self-govern," Bush said. "Some believe that the only solution for government in parts of the world is for there to be tyranny or despotism. I don't believe that. The Pakistan people have proven that those cynics are wrong."
Musharraf, according to a senior administration official who sat in on the meeting in the Oval Office, brought along his commerce minister, and Bush made plain that the Pakistanis had their own complaints about the relationship with the US, mostly involving trade restrictions.
Bush also made no announcement of any impending US agreement to sell surveillance airplanes, anti-tank missiles and other weapons to Pakistan.
The issue has been a tense one with India.