- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2007

The governor of Pakistan’s Baluchistan border province yesterday sharply rejected U.S. criticism of his country’s efforts in the war on terror, saying in an interview that such comments could undermine popular support inside Pakistan to take on global terrorist groups.

Awais Ghani, a political ally of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, said in a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times that it was the U.S.-backed government in neighboring Afghanistan that was largely to blame for problems in the region, including the resurgence of al Qaeda and Taliban attacks and soaring opium production.

“There is something very wrong in Afghanistan and we in Pakistan are the main victims,” said Mr. Ghani, who also met with congressional leaders this week during his first trip to Washington.

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai “has been penetrated by warlords and narcotics dealers, and the continued conflict and instability in the country very much suits their interests,” Mr. Ghani said.

The governor, an engineer by trade, made his visit at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Islamabad.

Although the Bush administration defends Gen. Musharraf’s efforts, a consensus survey released by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies last month concluded that al Qaeda had been able to regroup after the losses it suffered since the September 11 attacks because it had established a “safe haven” in western Pakistan.

Just yesterday, Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois became the latest U.S. figure to warn that U.S. troops must be prepared to deal with terrorist threats based in Pakistan — with or without Islamabad’s approval.

“If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will,” Mr. Obama said in a speech outlining his policies to deal with terrorist threats.

But Mr. Ghani said U.S. analysts have failed to distinguish between terrorists with a global agenda, such as al Qaeda, and regional and local movements such as the Taliban. Confusion between the two, he said, was “driving the Taliban into the lap of al Qaeda and making the job in Afghanistan that much harder.”

He defended Pakistan’s efforts to curb terrorism, citing the case of top Taliban militant Abdullah Mehsud, who reportedly killed himself as Pakistani security forces were poised to capture him last month, just days after he had crossed the border from Afghanistan.

The Baluchistan governor said critical comments from prominent figures like Mr. Obama risk hurting public support in Pakistan for the fight against terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

“They are very negative as far as we are concerned,” Mr. Ghani said. “Our people know the sacrifices we have made and wonder why it is not recognized.”

Baluchistan is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces but also the poorest and least populated. The province has been the scene of sporadic ethnic violence between Baluch militant groups and the federal government.

Mr. Ghani said the Musharraf government remained stable and effective, despite a bloody clash last month with Islamic extremists at a major Islamabad mosque and Gen. Musharraf’s ill-fated attempts to replace Pakistan’s top justice.

A poll released by the Washington-based International Republican Institute yesterday found that Gen. Musharraf’s approval rating had fallen 20 percentage points since March, to 34 percent.

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