Hindu Vivek Kendra
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U.S. Officials Leery of Publicly Pushing Pakistan for More Help Against Al-Qaida

U.S. Officials Leery of Publicly Pushing Pakistan for More Help Against Al-Qaida

Author: Sally Buzbee, Associated Press Writer
Publication: The Associated Press
Date: May 14, 2002

The United States would like Pakistan to do more to hunt any al-Qaida fighters finding refuge along the country's lawless border with Afghanistan. But at a time when the United States depends on Pakistan's president for many things - from countering an internal radical Islamic threat to averting a nuclear crisis with India - U.S. officials praise the help they get and are leery of publicly pushing for more.

"They are a sovereign nation," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday, lauding Pakistan even though local people say al-Qaida are hiding in the country's frontier tribal areas, moving freely back and forth from Afghanistan.

Pakistan's government is working on ways to deal with the tribal groups it has long granted autonomy, "so that ... pockets of al-Qaida or Taliban can be routed out," Rumsfeld said.

In one apparent example, Pakistan's government promised $167 million Monday for development projects in the remote areas. Pakistan also has allowed U.S. Special Forces to join its troops in recent weeks to look for al- Qaida and Taliban in the areas.

At the moment, a key U.S. goal is sorting out which tribes are most likely to shield al-Qaida and Taliban, and which may be willing to help the United States, said a defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has won praise from the Bush administration - and condemnation from Islamic extremists - ever since abandoning his country's support for the Taliban and siding with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But the United States also has to keep other priorities in mind - chief among them, ensuring that Pakistan and India don't go to war over the disputed Kashmir region, said Teresita Schaffer, a south Asia expert in Washington.

"The problem the United States has had with Pakistan ever since last September is, 'What priority comes at the top of the list?'" she said. "For certainly the first four months, the Afghan operations came in at the top.

"But now, it's fairly clear that a continuing hot border in Kashmir undercuts the rest of the agenda," Schaffer said.

A top Pentagon official, Douglas Feith, said Monday that the risk of war between Pakistan and India remains "very large." A top State Department official will travel to the region this week to try to calm tensions.

India is expected to soon say whether it believes Musharraf has ended his government's past support for Kashmiri militants, even as the spring thaw makes it more likely that militants will enter the mountainous region contested by the two countries.

Musharraf has done less to restrain Kashmiri militants than to help the United States along the border with Afghanistan, Schaffer said. And domestic politics are pushing both Pakistan and India to hardline positions, she said.

Feith warned that any Pakistan-India war could undermine "everything he (Musharraf) is trying to accomplish for Pakistan. ... We all have a stake in his success."

Meanwhile, the presence of U.S. forces hunting al-Qaida inside Pakistan has angered the deeply conservative Pakistani tribesmen who continue to back the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's organization.

It's unclear whether al-Qaida are setting up permanent bases inside Pakistan, or merely using tribal areas to elude special forces, before then returning to Afghanistan when it's safe.

Large numbers of Taliban and al-Qaida have not been found in Pakistan's tribal areas, said the defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But a spate of recent attacks on foreigners inside Pakistan - including a suicide bombing that killed 11 French civilians - seems designed by al-Qaida sympathizers to shake confidence in the government's ability to keep order.

Musharraf has appealed for both international help and understanding as his government makes mass arrests to try to control extremists.

The problem is that the attacks are being waged by the same Kashmiri militants who Musharraf's military and intelligence agency supported until Sept. 11, said the chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Afrasyab Khattak.

Schaffer agreed: "It's become apparent, you really can't keep these groups in watertight compartments."

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