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Published:July 17th, 2007 18:09 EST
Pakistani Government Praised for Confronting Extremists

Pakistani Government Praised for Confronting Extremists

By SOP newswire

Washington – The Pakistani government’s efforts to confront extremist forces have drawn praise from a senior U.S. diplomat, who also pledged support in upgrading Pakistan’s military capabilities and promoting economic development in the country’s tribal areas.

Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said July 17 that the Pakistani government’s handling of the armed revolt at Islamabad’s Red Mosque showed decisive action against extremism.  He also pointed to recent arrests of Taliban fighters and the return of government forces to Pakistan’s tribal areas as evidence that the government is serious about fighting violent militancy.

Boucher said al-Qaida has exploited the September 2006 Waziristan Agreement and expanded its operations in the tribal areas.  Under that agreement, the government drew down its forces in the area with the understanding that the tribal elders would protect the region against infiltration from Taliban and al-Qaida militants. (See related article.)

Boucher said, however, that al-Qaida took advantage of the reduced government presence to meet, plan, recruit and obtain financing in the tribal areas.

The assistant secretary said some military action would be necessary.  “There are elements in these areas that are extremely violent and are out to kill government people, government leaders and will not settle for a peaceful way forward," he said.

Since the founding of modern Pakistan, government forces have had limited control in the tribal areas.  Typically, governments in Islamabad have ruled the area through agreements with local tribal leaders, but Boucher said the power of the tribal elders has diminished in recent decades with the rise of extremist forces.  Responsible authority is needed in those areas, he said.  To build the Pakistani military’s capacity to control extremist activity in these regions, Boucher said the United States will help Pakistan train and equip its Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force of people mostly from tribal areas that is led by Pakistan army officers.

He said the United States also would provide $750 million over the next five years to support the Pakistani government’s Tribal Areas Sustainable Development Plan.  The plan calls for new industrial infrastructure, institution building, training and education to provide job opportunities and integrate the areas into the national economy.

Boucher said that he does not know whether the government will be able to rely on the tribal elders to support these plans, but, “One would hope that the tribal leaders in this area would look for development, would look for stability, would look for opportunity for their people and therefore would look to expel the foreigners, stop the Talibanization and stop the cross-border activity" of militants passing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Boucher said the United States also supports Pakistan’s democratic transition that now is under way.

“We’re very much supportive of movement toward a free and open election where the Pakistani people be given a choice and be able to make the choice of their leadership in the future," he said.  He added that greater democracy would help solidify a stable, moderate center in Pakistani politics and provide a broader basis for fighting extremism.  Pakistan is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of 2007.

For more information, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer