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WASHINGTON, Aug 20: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has advised Pakistan’s democratic government to focus on fighting militants “hiding in the country’s tribal belt”.

Her focalperson for South Asia, Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher, gave a similar advice to the Pakistani government in an interview to Voice of America radio, reminding Islamabad that “it is in your interest to fight the militants”.

The US emphasis on the need for Pakistan to fight terrorists follows President Pervez Musharraf’s exit from power in which Americans played a key mediatory role.

The US administration believes that with Mr Musharraf out of their way, the Pakistani government should turn its attention to terrorism, rein in the so-called rogue elements within the ISI and drive out terrorists from Fata.

“The government does need to focus on what it is going to do to stop these militants,” said Secretary Rice. “And we’ve had that conversation very recently when the Pakistani Prime Minister was in Washington to meet with President Bush.”

In an interview to BBC, Ms Rice indicated that the US did not want Pakistan’s internal politics to have a negative impact on the war on terror. “We all have an interest in fighting terrorism and the militants, because the militants are not just after the United States or Afghanistan,” she said.

“These are the people who, after all, assassinated Benazir Bhutto. These are the people who have launched attacks throughout Pakistan.”

Explaining the US policy towards a post-Musharraf Pakistan, Ms Rice said the United States supported the democratically elected government and was a strong advocate for free and fair elections which brought politicians to power. The US, she noted, also encouraged President Musharraf to take off his uniform and return Pakistan to civilian rule.

“We didn’t always agree (with Mr Musharraf). For instance, we didn’t agree with the state of emergency several months ago. But President Musharraf served well as an ally in the war on terror.”

The US, she said, wanted to help the elected government and was supporting a package within the G-7 finance ministers to help the Pakistani economy.

“We want to help them in terms of social development, educational reform, all of the things that they want to do,” she added.

Her deputy, Richard Boucher, also responded to the criticism that Mr Musharraf became unpopular in Pakistan because he followed US policies in the war on terror.

Mr Boucher said Mr Musharraf did not follow US policies in the war on terror. He made his own policies and implemented them.

Mr Boucher said the former Pakistani president fought terrorists because he believed it was in Pakistan’s interest to do so.

The present government was also fighting this war because it believed it was Pakistan’s war, the US official said.

Asked if Mr Musharraf’s ouster was also a lesson for Washington to stop supporting individuals, Mr Boucher said the United States was working with institutions in Pakistan and not with individuals.