- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — More should be done to strengthen ties between the United States and Pakistan, even though the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks transformed the relationship between the two countries for the better, Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said Thursday.

"The two countries today enjoy a close, friendly, vibrant, and multifaceted partnership," Kasuri said in a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"Of course, more needs to be done," he said. "We need to structure it for the long term by further institutionalizing the relationship in all spheres: political, economic, and, of course, our ongoing cooperation against terrorism."

Kasuri has stressed the importance of the strong U.S.-Pakistani relationship in meetings this week with several top Bush administration officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

However, there are issues that cloud the partnership between the two countries.

Pakistan is facing significant challenges that raise concern among analysts who follow the country, about the stability of its government as well as about its commitment to the United States.

The country's cooperation with the United States in fighting terrorism in the Asian subcontinent, for one, has caused problems with Islamic extremists within its own borders.

In addition, Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, along with its ongoing dispute with India over Kashmir, continue to raise the nearly constant specter of nuclear war.

There have also been recent reports that Pakistan has been involved in the development of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Kasuri dismissed these reports as inaccurate, adding that similar stories had not been, in his words, "planted" about India's nuclear program.

He also noted that such questions never arose regarding Russia's involvement in the development of nuclear weapons by India.

In response to questions about the ability of the Pakistani government to keep nuclear material from ending up in the hands of terrorists or being used by rogue military leaders, Kasuri said that the arsenal has been protected by a secure command and control system for two years.

When asked by United Press International about reports that al Qaida and the Taliban still have support within the ranks of the Pakistani military and the country's intelligence agency, the ISI, Kasuri vehemently dismissed this as an impossibility because of his country's strict military code.

He added that military personnel primarily staff the ISI and that President Pervez Musharraf and top military leaders keep them under strict control.

"They dare not take any action which will be in conflict of the declared policies of Pakistan," he said.

Kasuri's speech followed the detention Tuesday of Ejaz Haider, a respected Pakistani journalist and visiting research scholar at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, by U.S. Justice Department officials for missing a deadline to check in with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Under the new National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, the INS requires male visitors from 25 nations, including Pakistan, to register with the agency upon their initial arrival in the United States, and to check back with officials periodically as long as they remain in the country. In addition, visitors already in residence are required to register with the agency.

Haider, a good friend of Kasuri's and an editor at the widely read Pakistani English-language newsweekly The Friday Times, has said that he was told by officials at the State Department and INS that he could ignore the requirement to check back in with the immigration agency 40 days after his initial entry to the United States.

In his speech, Kasuri indicated that the registration program has become a significant problem for his government.

"There has been an immense negative fallout in Pakistan due to the NSEERS process," he said. "The difficulties arising out of the process have provided our opponents, many of whom oppose Pakistan's role as a partner of the United States in our fight against terrorism, enough propaganda material to create problems for us as well as President Musharraf."

Noting that Algeria was given an exemption from the list of countries whose residents have to register with INS officials, he asked that the same consideration be given to Pakistanis.

Kasuri addressed Haider's detention and Pakistan's problems with the NSEERS program in his meetings Wednesday with Ashcroft and Powell.

Following an earlier warning that such actions would severely affect U.S.-Pakistani relations, he said that the talks had led him to believe that Pakistanis would not be deported in significant numbers under the new system.

Powell said Wednesday that although he recognized that the inclusion of Pakistan in the program has upset many from that country, it was needed to provide a better understanding of who was in the United States.

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