US endorses Waziristan peace deal

September 16, 2006

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WASHINGTON, Sept 15: The United States believes that the agreement the government recently signed with pro-Taliban tribal chiefs in Waziristan has the ‘potential to work’.

In a policy speech at the School of Advanced International Studies here, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher endorsed the deal as an effort to get tribal support to defeat terrorism.

He refused to get involved in a debate over the situation in Balochistan, saying that it was Pakistan’s ‘local problem’.

He declared that no country had done more than Pakistan in the war against terror.

Noting that the government had carved out a new strategy to deal with the cross-border activities of Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathisers, Mr Boucher said: “The agreement really has the potential to work.”

He said he believed the deal created an opportunity for local leaders to get hold of the problem of terrorism and it could enable the government “to get a political handle on this and enlist its citizens in the fight against terror”.

The US, he said, understood that to effectively control the Afghan border, Pakistan needed “cooperation from local tribes and they are really trying to get in.”

Mr Boucher said the US hoped that the agreement would leave a positive impact on the situation in the regions that are run by local tribal chiefs since the British days.

“Instead of challenging the tribal chiefs, Pakistan has signed an agreement with them and we believe that it is a good effort,” he said.

The official said the agreement would allow the local administration and the tribal chiefs to play a positive role in the development of their areas and also in restoring peace and security to the region.

The agreement, he said, would restrict the movement of Taliban and would not permit the presence of Al Qaeda and its sympathisers in the tribal belt. “Talibanisation will not be allowed, in the area or in the cities near the tribal region,” he said.

Mr Boucher said the government had made the tribal chiefs accept all these conditions before signing the agreement.

“Only the results will tell whether this agreement will succeed or if it is a positive step. I believe it is positive in the sense that it is an effort to create political understanding, an effort to bring economic development to the area,” said Mr Boucher. “We hope that this strategy succeeds.”

Mr Boucher said a major effort was on in Pakistan to fight terrorism with a lot of success in efforts to curb Al Qaeda.

Islamabad had also now turned its attention on Taliban with President Pervez Musharraf showing real determination, he said.

President Musharraf, in Mr Boucher’s view, was also crucial to building a moderate and democratic Muslim society in Pakistan.

Asked if the situation in Balochistan could affect Pakistan’s cooperation in the war against terror, the official said: “Not necessarily, I would not draw any immediate connection but one does not know the full political fallout yet.”

He said that there was also problem with the Taliban going back and forth in Balochistan, “and we need to see Pakistan’s efforts in all of these areas be successful.”

Asked to comment on Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death, Mr Boucher said: “It has been a local matter in Pakistan. There has been a big debate there. I don’t think the US has taken too big a position on this and I don’t think I want to do that right now.”

He said he was also not yet in a position to say what the fallout of Nawab Bugti’s death would be.

He said the uprising and violence in Balochistan had been troubling to the government and people of Pakistan and the US would like to see it calm down and end. “We would like to see the people of that area get the respect and rights they deserve.”

Mr Boucher expressed hope that Pakistan and India could find a ‘basis’ to resume talks.

He praised the statesmanship shown by the leaders of the two countries but noted that the Mumbai blasts had caused a setback to the peace process.

He stressed that the US role was not a direct one, but of providing constant encouragement to the two sides.

Mr Boucher said the nuclear agreement with India was ‘a big deal’ in the US foreign policy towards South Asia and the Bush administration was hopeful that the US Senate would clear it this month despite its tight schedule.

The US was also hopeful that the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group would agree to make an exception in the case, he said, describing the support extended by NSG Brazil and South Africa as a positive sign.

BUSH: Meanwhile, US President George Bush at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden on Friday rejected charges that his administration had not done enough to catch Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden as an ‘urban myth’ fuelled by political ambitions, adds AFP.

“We have been on the hunt, and we’ll stay on the hunt until we bring him to justice,” said Mr Bush.

But he acknowledged telling a conservative journalist earlier this week that he would not send ‘thousands of troops’ into the remote region of the Pakistan border with Afghanistan, where Osama is thought to be hiding.

“If he is in Pakistan,” said President Bush, “Pakistan’s a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we’ve got to be invited by the government of Pakistan.”