President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan says that after the September 11 attacks, the United States threatened to bomb his country if it did not cooperate with the US campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Mr Musharraf, in an interview with CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes that will air in the US on Sunday, said the threat came from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and was given to Mr Musharraf’s intelligence director.
“The intelligence director told me that (Mr Armitage) said, ‘Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,'” Mr Musharraf said.
“I think it was a very rude remark.”
Mr Armitage was not immediately available to comment and a Bush administration official said there would be no comment on a “reported conversation between Mr Armitage and a Pakistani official”.
“After 9/11, Pakistan made a strategic decision to join the war on terror and has since been a steadfast partner in that effort,” the Bush administration official said.
“Pakistan’s commitment to this important endeavour has not wavered and our partnership has widened as a result.”
Mr Musharraf is now in Washington and is due to meet President George W Bush in the White House on Friday.
The Pakistani leader, whose remarks were distributed to the media by CBS, said he reacted to the threat in a responsible way.
“One has to think and take actions in the interest of the nation, and that’s what I did,” Mr Musharraf said.
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, Pakistan was one of the only countries in the world to maintain relations with the Taliban, which was harbouring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and many Pakistanis were sympathetic with the neighbouring Islamic state.
But within days of the attacks, Mr Musharraf cut his Government’s ties to the Taliban regime and cooperated with US efforts to track and capture Al Qaeda and Taliban forces that sought refuge in Pakistan.
The official 9/11 Commission report on the attacks and their aftermath, based largely on Government documents, said US national security officials focused immediately on securing Pakistani cooperation as they planned a response.
Documents showed Mr Armitage met the Pakistani ambassador and the visiting head of Pakistan’s military intelligence service in Washington on September 13 and asked Pakistan to take seven steps.
Support for bin Laden
The seven steps included ending logistical support for bin Laden and giving the United States blanket overflight and landing rights for military and intelligence flights.
The report did not discuss any threat the United States may have made, but it said Mr Musharraf agreed to all seven US requests the same day.
Mr Musharraf said in the CBS interview he was irked by US demands that Pakistan turn over its border posts and bases for the US military to use.
He said some demands were “ludicrous”, including one insisting he suppress domestic expression of support for terrorism against the United States.
“If somebody’s expressing views, we can not curb the expression of views,” Mr Musharraf said.
Mr Musharraf reacted with displeasure to comments by Mr Bush on Wednesday that if he had firm intelligence bin Laden was in Pakistan, he would issue the order to go into that country.
“We wouldn’t like to allow that. We’d like to do that ourselves,” Mr Musharraf told a news conference.
Mr Musharraf’s comments came days ahead of the publication by New York-based Free Press of his memoir “In the Line of Fire.”