US braces for Pakistan’s new plan

April 04, 2008

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WASHINGTON, April 3: The US military chief has acknowledged that the new government in Islamabad could adopt a new strategy for fighting terrorists hiding in the tribal areas, but hoped that Pakistan would continue to be a strong ally in the war against terror.

“I think we need to be mindful that this is a new government, new leadership (and) could certainly have a new direction,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. “They, too, are a sovereign country.”

The US media reported on Thursday that Pakistan’s new rulers would not allow US forces to operate unilaterally within their borders.

The media noted that at a meeting with their military commanders on Wednesday, the new rulers declared their intention to start a dialogue with the militants, and rejected the Musharraf government’s policy of allowing US air strikes inside the tribal zone.

Admiral Mullen told a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday evening that the United States was aware of these changes and was prepared to work with the new government.

“We just need to be thinking about how to both recognise this new government, what their plans will be, and then work with them accordingly,” he said.

The US military chief also underlined close ties between the military establishments of the two countries. “From my perspective, we’ve got good military-to-military contacts, so that’s the right contact level for those of us in the military,” he said.

Adm Mullen hoped that Pakistan’s new terrorism policies would also include a strategy for combating terrorism along its border with Afghanistan.

“They’re a strong ally. They’ve been a strong ally in this war on terror, and I believe they will continue to be,” he said.

As with any new setup, the new government in Pakistan would need some time to establish itself fully and “get headed in the direction that they want to go,” he added.

The United States was not contemplating any plan to give a new role to India for combating terrorism in Afghanistan, said the US military chief.

Recent media reports have suggested that during a visit to New Delhi in February, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates sought India’s help for fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents in Afghanistan.

“And I’m not aware that he had any discussions along the lines of asking India to do anything else in Afghanistan,” said Adm Mullen while commenting on these reports.

He, however, acknowledged that because of its commitments in Iraq, the United States is finding it difficult to send additional troops to Afghanistan to combat terrorists.