WASHINGTON, June 26: US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrives in Islamabad next week with a message of support for Islamabad’s new strategy of empowering the military to deal with militancy in the tribal areas.

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey noted that Pakistan’s new strategy for dealing with terrorism brings together political parties, the military, and some of the traditional leaders in Fata to “reiterate their opposition to extremism and their desire and willingness to combat it.”

Mr Boucher saw it as different from the peace overtures of 2006 which the US says allowed insurgents to retrench themselves and increase cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

“Certainly the approach of saying, ‘We will work with the tribes to kick out the terrorists’ is a better approach than going directly to negotiate with militants,” said Mr Boucher.

“And that seems to be the approach they are adopting.”

Even before the new carrot-and-stick approach was announced in Islamabad on Wednesday, US officials told a congressional hearing in Washington that they hope it would lead to an anti-terrorism agreement between Pakistan’s political and military leaders.

Diplomatic circles in Washington point out that this was the US objective when it helped broker a deal between President Pervez Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

According to these circles, the United States believes that neither the military nor politicians are able to defeat terrorism alone.

That’s why it wants them to pool their resources and respect the Musharraf-Bhutto understanding even after Ms Bhutto’s death.

It was in this spirit that Washington welcomed Wednesday’s declaration in Islamabad that the Chief of the Army Staff would be “the principal for application of military effort” in Fata.

Washington also noted that the political leadership will look after the negotiation process.

However, both Mr Boucher and Mr Casey made it clear that only tribal leaders, and not militants, should be approached for these talks.

“Certainly, there is not any predisposition to reject discussions that would lead to individuals who might otherwise be taking up arms or willing to provide material support, or simply willing to stand by and take no action while extremist groups are operating,” said Mr Casey while explaining should be contacted for peace talks.

Mr Boucher indicated that Pakistan’s new strategy for dealing with the militants will figure prominently in his talks with the Pakistani leaders when he visits Islamabad.

“I will be travelling to Pakistan next week to talk with the new government about how we can best face the challenges ahead together,” he said.

“My messages will be simple and consistently delivered to political, military and civil society leaders. I intend to say clearly: The United States welcomes and supports the democratically elected government of Pakistan.”

This strong message of support also echoed at a congressional hearing on Wednesday and at a briefing at the Pentagon where press secretary Geoff Morrell openly disagreed with a US government report accusing Pakistan of submitted inflated bills for anti-terrorism operations along the Afghan border.

“This is reimbursement for military operations that they (the Pakistanis) are conducting, really on our behalf, in an area of the world that we cannot operate (in) at this point,” he said.

Mr Morrell noted that paying the Pakistanis to conduct the operations is significantly cheaper than it would cost for the US to do it alone.

Mr Boucher went a step ahead and advised Pakistani political parties to put aside their differences and focus on fighting terrorism and on making Pakistan a modern and moderate state.

“We believe firmly that now is the time for everyone to get past political manoeuvring and focus on the issues that are important for the Pakistani people,” he said.

“We will work with you to support the modernisation of Pakistan in all areas. We will work with you to support local leadership and oppose militants, because terrorism is our common enemy. And, we will work together to determine how we can focus our assistance in the areas that matter most to the people of Pakistan.”

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