- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2008

Newsmaker interview:

Pakistani security forces are preparing a string of actions in the coming days to follow up on the operation launched last week against a top Islamist militant near the northwestern city of Peshawar, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani said in an interview Monday.

The envoy, appointed shortly after a new democratic coalition won Pakistan‘s February parliamentary elections, said the operations along the troubled border with Afghanistan were designed to “send a message” about the new government’s commitment to work with Afghanistan and NATO forces to crush terrorist havens inside the country.

“There are going to be several such actions in the next few days,” Mr. Haqqani told reporters and editors at The Washington Times. He declined to elaborate, citing security concerns.

U.S. and Afghan officials have criticized Pakistan’s commitment in the past to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, believed to have taken refuge in largely ungoverned tribal areas that straddle the border.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week the flow of fighters into Afghanistan remained “clearly a concern.” Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who arrived in Islamabad on Monday for three days of meetings, told a Senate hearing last week that previous Pakistani agreements to work with local tribal leaders to curb the militants had not worked.

New Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani on June 25 endorsed yet another action plan to deal with extremists on the border, a mix of negotiations with some militant leaders and military actions against others.

Mr. Haqqani said the new plan would have far greater legitimacy and effectiveness because it had been drafted and approved by the newly elected government.

He said the first strike, launched in the Khyber tribal area Saturday, had achieved its “basic objective” by destroying bases and safe houses belonging to Taliban-allied militant leader Mangal Bagh in the village of Bara, about 10 miles outside Peshawar. The militant leader was not caught.

“The message is, ‘This is going to happen to anyone who tries to do this kind of thing,’” said the ambassador. “The Pakistani military has been given the job and task of ensuring that there will be no flow of Taliban fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan.”

Mr. Haqqani, a former scholar and journalist well known in Washington’s think-tank community, acknowledged that some in Pakistan in the past had urged targeting only terrorist groups that attacked the state, while tolerating or ignoring the problem of cross-border flows of fighters, weapons and equipment into Afghanistan.

That, he said, has changed.

“The view of the elected government, of the leadership that was voted into office in February, is that the security of Afghanistan and Pakistan are interconnected, that the [old view] was a narrow view,” he said. “We have to do it together. We are partners — Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States.”

Mr. Haqqani also faulted aspects of U.S. policy toward Pakistan in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, saying there has been a “complete failure” of American public diplomacy in Pakistan and the Muslim world to define the objectives of the global war on terror.

He said U.S. diplomats need to get out more among the Pakistani people and the American press often presents a shallow and distorted view of Islam.

And while Pakistan beefs up its troop presence and pursues new campaigns against militants on its side of the border, the Afghan army and the U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan need more troops on the ground to reinforce the gains, Mr. Haqqani maintained.

He said the American post-Sept. 11 obsession with security had badly hurt the country’s image abroad, sometimes in ways Americans do not appreciate.

“You would not believe how small things help bin Laden,” he said. “Every time a significant, respectable Pakistani is humiliated at an American airport, despite having a valid visa, the story doesn’t even make it in your papers, but it’s the biggest story of the day in Pakistan.”

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