U.S. ‘watching’ ally Pakistan’s tactics with militants
NEW YORK — The Bush administration is sending mixed signals to the new Pakistani government over its talks with militants, troubled by the failure of past deals but reluctant to publicly criticize its key ally in the war on terror.
“We’re watching closely,” a State Department official said May 1. “The Pakistani government has been negotiating with tribes for years and years. It’s a tactic they’ve used in the continuing struggle to get a more secure [border].”
“The bottom line for us is that we need to see more results. Any agreement must be enforced,” said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.
His remark came amid a week of violence on both sides of the border, a suicide attack in the tribal regions on the Pakistani side of the border that injured 30 and an assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier in the week.
Afghan officials said the attack on Mr. Karzai was likely carried out by al Qaeda-related militants from Pakistan’s tribal belt.
Pakistan has suffered heavy vi- olence from suspected militants based in the same tribal region.
More than 1,000 Pakistanis have been killed during military operations in the tribal areas under the former government of President Pervez Musharraf.
In Islamabad, the new coalition government led by the party of slain former Prime Minister Be- nazir Bhutto is seeking a negotiated agreement with militants.
“We believe that military action alone will not be effective in permanently ending the phenomenon of terrorism,” a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters in Islamabad recently.
On April 30 the State Department released a harsh assessment of Pakistan’s counterterrorism activities, part of its annual report on terrorism.
“The trend and sophistication of suicide bombings grew in Pakistan this year,” it said, noting that deadly attacks nearly doubled to 45 in 2007.
The Bush administration was critical of a 2006 cease-fire in the tribal areas, which it says gave militants time to rearm and launch new attacks in Afghanistan.
“Obviously, this was something that was tried before. It did not work before,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said April 30. “It’s important that any agreement be effectively enforced and that it not interrupt operations where we are going after terrorists in that area.”
U.S. officials concede that there is little they can do to influence Islamabad’s dealings with extremists, as Pakistan is a sovereign nation dealing with internal issues.
And while the Bush administration was originally alarmed by the prospect of a cease-fire with the border extremists, it has sought lately to downplay any friction.
A member of the Taliban holds a blood-stained Koran after a suicide attack May 1 in Bara, Pakistan, near the Afghan border.