June 19th, 2007 09:37 EST
Rice Praises Pakistani Progress Against Extremism
Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the progress Pakistan has made in combating extremism over the past six years and called for free and fair parliamentary elections as a step toward the restoration of democracy.
“I think we have to recognize that Pakistan has come a very long way since 2001 in its commitment to try and root out extremism, to try to make reforms -- educational reforms, reforms on concerns of women and the like,” she told reporters in a June 18 press conference. “There [is] an important set of events coming up when there will be elections in Pakistan. And the importance of those elections being free and fair as a foundation for a more democratic Pakistan, I think, is very clear.”
Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 15, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said, “It’s time for Pakistan to move back to democratic elections and civilian rule,” and the United States, he said, is happy to work with President Pervez Musharraf to achieve that goal. Pakistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections before the end of 2007, and Musharraf’s current term as president expires in October.
Musharraf is expected to seek another term as president, but there has been debate in Pakistan over whether he should be able to retain both the presidency and his position as chief of the army. Boucher said it is important to resolve that question, but the issue does not stand in the way of free and fair elections.
Boucher praised Pakistan’s efforts in fighting terrorism. He said no other country has done more to confront terrorism or sacrificed more in that effort than Pakistan.
He said the greatest threat of terrorism comes from territories that do not fall under state control, particularly when people in those areas are deprived of economic opportunity. The United States is working to help the Pakistani government extend its control over the tribal areas and integrate the people living there into the national economy, he added. He said the United State s has budgeted $750 million over the next five years to support the Pakistani government’s plans for economic development in those regions.
Boucher expressed reservations about the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, emphasizing that Iran is not a reliable partner and that closer cooperation with Iran may not be in Pakistan’s best interests. He said the United States is working to develop hydroelectric projects in Central Asia that could address Pakistan’s energy needs in place of gas from Iran.
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