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Embassy Row: Misunderstanding?

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2012

The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan created a political storm this week when he said that two leading opposition politicians would form a "pro-U.S. government" if either becomes prime minister in next year's elections.

Ambassador Cameron Munter told the Urdu-language service of the BBC that he met recently with Nawaz Sharif, leader of the center-right Pakistan Muslim League-N, and Imran Khan, head of the center-left Movement for Justice party.

"They assured me that their parties fully support the United States," he said.

His comments added more tension to the U.S.-Pakistani relations, already strained by U.S. drone attacks on terrorist targets in Pakistan. His words also surprised Mr. Khan, who has been strongly critical of Pakistan's cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism.

Mr. Cameron "either misunderstood or misquoted my discussion with him regarding Pak-U.S. relations," Mr. Khan told Pakistani reporters on Wednesday. "I am not against the United States ... but just against their policies on the war on terror."

He added that "war is not the answer to terrorism."

Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister who was overthrown in a military coup in 1999, has not issued any comment on his talks with Mr. Munter.

In his BBC interview, Mr. Munter also called on Pakistan to develop "complete control over its territories," a reference to a lawless northwest border region where Taliban militants launch attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.

"It is important that Pakistan's political and military leadership defeats these terrorists, and we want to help Pakistan with it," he said.

His interview appeared a week after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized for a U.S. attack on a Pakistani border post in November and Pakistan reopened NATO supply routes it had shut down in protest.

TALIBAN CAN'T WIN

The United States and the Taliban appear to agree on one thing: The Islamist extremists who once crushed Afghanistan with their brutal regime can't defeat NATO forces and the new Afghan army.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Kabul expressed doubts of an outbreak of a civil war after the United States withdraws its troops by 2014.

"I tend to consider those unlikely scenarios," he told the Associated Press on Thursday in the first of several farewell interviews he has granted before retiring later this month.

Mr. Crocker predicted that various tribal or ethnic leaders will get involved in politics instead of embracing the Taliban or other militant group.

"Politics is breaking out all over. You don't see many people saying, 'Well, it's time to start digging trenches again.'"

At least one top Taliban leaders agrees.

"It would take some kind of divine intervention for the Taliban to win this war," a Taliban commander known only as Mawlvi told Britain's New Statesman Magazine this week.

The Taliban enforced a brutal type of Islamic law over Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when U.S. troops overthrew the regime for sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

"At least 70 percent of the Taliban are angry at al Qaeda," Mawlvi said. "Our people consider al Qaeda to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens."

OUR MAN IN MYANMAR

Derek Mitchell this week took his new assignment as the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar in more than 20 years.

Mr. Mitchell arrived in Yangoon, the former capital, and traveled immediately to Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital, to present his diplomatic credential to President Thein Sein.

The last U.S. ambassador, career diplomat Burton Levin, was withdrawn in 1990 to protest the crackdown on democratic activists by a military government.

The restoration of full diplomatic ties followed the released of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi in November and parliamentary elections in April.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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