- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

HONG KONG (Agence France-Presse) — The United States is receiving better cooperation from Pakistan in the battle to crush the Taliban but would like Islamabad to do more, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in an interview released yesterday.

Mr. Wolfowitz presented a mixed assessment of its key war on terror ally in an interview with the weekly magazine Far Eastern Economic Review, but stressed the United States is firmly committed to Pakistan nonetheless.

Asked about the Pakistani military’s cooperation in fighting remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime, Mr. Wolfowitz said: “There is greater cooperation but it continues to be a bit of an issue.

“One of the ways [Pakistan] slices it is to cooperate regarding al Qaeda…. It’s increasingly clear that we’re not about to give up on the Taliban. We have a long commitment to Afghanistan.”

The Pentagon official also rejected calls for elections in Afghanistan, scheduled for June, to be postponed because of ongoing violence and instability linked to the Taliban.

“I don’t see how you can do this without looking like it’s a vote of no confidence,” he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz said Washington was likely to increase its demands on Islamabad in return for downplaying a scandal when Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was pardoned after admitting selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

“We feel it gives us more leverage. I think it may give Musharraf a somewhat stronger hand in Pakistan. He’s got an act to clean up,” he told the magazine.

“The international community is prepared to accept his pardon of A.Q. Khan for all he’s done, but it’s clearly a kind of IOU that, in return for that, there has to be a full accounting of everything that’s happened.”

The United States has so far been denied official permission to deploy its troops on Pakistani soil, but pressure is mounting amid a renewed campaign to track down Osama bin Laden and his supporters on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Despite his critical words, Mr. Wolfowitz stressed Washington’s dependence on Pakistan, which became a major player in the U.S.-led war on terror in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

“We have a government that can’t deliver everything we would like to see and it would like to see, and we don’t have the ability to simply say if you don’t do [this] we will cut off our whole relationship with you and let you go under,” he said.

Pakistan, which is struggling to contain extremist violence within its own borders, has repeatedly insisted it is doing its best to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban fighters operating in the mountainous border region with Afghanistan.

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