- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

NEW YORK — Pakistan, a key ally in the war on terror, welcomes an expected reappraisal of U.S. policy in Iran and Afghanistan, and thinks military action alone is “not the answer” to the threat posed by extremists in the two countries, its prime minister says.

Shaukat Aziz told The Washington Times that he would like to see a more nuanced approach to battling extremism, which includes massive investment and economic assistance to the two countries in order to build a sense of well-being for the poor and disenfranchised.

In New York for meetings at the United Nations, Mr. Aziz also said the world needs to focus more seriously on Afghanistan’s narcotics trade, which is becoming an increasingly important source of terrorist financing. By some estimates, the trade accounts for half of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product.

An American commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton is expected to recommend strategies for the Iraq war before year’s end, a development that Mr. Aziz welcomed.

“We believe that conflicts like Iraq, Afghanistan and so on need to be carefully reviewed because military action is not the answer or the solution to such a crisis,” he said.

“We must work on winning the hearts and minds of the people. We have to involve the people, to give them the sense that the world cares and their future tomorrow will be better than yesterday.”

The United States has spent about $38 billion on infrastructure and development projects in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, but Mr. Aziz said more must be done to address “root causes,” namely poverty and hopelessness, and to make extremist ideologies less attractive.

The prime minister gave an implicit reminder that the United States must leave Afghanistan eventually, in consultation with the Afghans, their neighbors and myriad stakeholders.

“History is full of examples where we didn’t focus too much on exit strategy,” Mr. Aziz said. “A good exit strategy is one which leaves that country, that area, peaceful, economically and politically empowered. …

“We are the most important stakeholder, and we are there for life. We cannot take off; countries cannot change their neighbors.”

Mr. Aziz declined to comment on the U.S. midterm elections last week or the resignation Wednesday of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

He downplayed Washington’s continued demands that Pakistan do more to prevent al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from crossing in and out of Pakistan, arguing that it is in Pakistan’s national interest to fight narcotics, extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan.

With parliamentary elections due late next year, the Pakistan government faces a delicate balancing act, seeking to address U.S. demands without alienating a Pakistani public that could deliver its votes to a political coalition that is thought to be aligned with the Taliban.

“In our neighborhood, a lot of events are taking place that can impact us,” said Mr. Aziz, whose military sustained more than 40 deaths in a suicide bombing last week. “We are not doing this to please anybody; we are doing this in our own national interest. … Terrorism knows no borders.”

The prime minister also defended his country’s agreement to allow tribal leaders to take charge of one portion of the 1,700-mile border with Afghanistan, saying that the area is difficult to police.

Asked whether similar deals may be struck in other tribal, agencies, he said: “If we can restrict activity that is prejudicial to our security, it will be done. At the right time and right place we will do more.”

Mr. Aziz is a member of an elite panel advising the United Nations on how to consolidate and better coordinate aid activities in the field. His staff said he had no official contacts with Washington during the visit, focusing instead on the local Pakistani community and economic business.

After repeated assassination attempts against Mr. Aziz and President Pervez Musharraf, the prime minister travels in a tight security cocoon that is noteworthy even by U.N. standards. A city block in front of his hotel was sealed off to automotive traffic during his stay.

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