- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2008

The United States expressed doubts Wednesday over a Pakistani pledge to fight militants along its border with Afghanistan amid escalating violence that included a massacre of tribal elders and growing tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of involvement in an April assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai, complicating efforts by the U.S. military to reconcile the two U.S. allies.

U.S. Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, who recently took command of NATO forces in Afghanistan, told The Washington Times in an interview published Wednesday that a key goal is to build a cooperative relationship among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the coalition forces he leads.

Pakistani leaders acknowledge that Taliban and al Qaeda militants find refuge in its lawless tribal belt. However, they angrily reject allegations that its security agencies are colluding with militants.

Moreover, Pakistan has become increasingly wary of militants based in its tribal regions because of attacks that have killed hundreds of its own citizens, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In its strongest message to militants since it came to office in the spring, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s Cabinet vowed Wednesday not to “allow its territory to be used against other countries, especially Afghanistan.”

“Elimination of terrorism and extremism is the gravest challenge to Pakistan’s national security and to fight this menace, a multi-pronged strategy will be followed,” the government said after a meeting with federal and provincial leaders, as well as military and security agency chiefs.

The Bush administration cautiously welcomed the Pakistani statement while expressing skepticism over Pakistani talks with militants themselves.

“Politicians say, ‘We have a policy of negotiating with the tribes, not the militants.’ And yet, what we’ve seen is negotiations with Sufi Mohammad in Swat and Baitullah Mehsud in Waziristan,” Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said in reference to militant leaders.

“Certainly, the approach of saying, ‘We will work with the tribes to kick out the militants,’ is a better approach than going directly to negotiate with the militants. That seems to be the approach they are adopting, not one that they have implemented successfully yet,” Mr. Boucher told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mehsud’s group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which the government blames for Mrs. Bhutto’s December assassination, claimed responsibility Wednesday for killing 28 elders from a rival pro-government tribe after abducting them earlier this week.

Also yesterday, a truce in the Swat Valley recently negotiated by the Pakistani government began to unravel when militants burned down five schools for girls.

The Swat Valley, once known as the Switzerland of Asia, is the base for Mohammad, the other militant leader mentioned by Mr. Boucher.

Saeed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence chief, claimed Afghan intelligence could prove Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, was involved.

A spokesman for the Pakistan army, which controls the ISI, was not immediately available for comment. The Foreign Ministry said it would only respond after viewing a transcript of Mr. Ansari’s remarks, the Associated Press reported.

Gen. McKiernan said in his interview with The Times that he hopes to visit Pakistan in the next few weeks to meet army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other officials to help establish a relationship between Gen. Kayani and the Afghan leadership.

“Part of the security environment and challenge in Afghanistan are the materials, the insurgents, the leadership that comes across the border from [Pakistan’s] North-West Frontier Province,” Gen. McKiernan said.


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