WASHINGTON, Sept 18: Unilateral actions cannot defeat militancy in Fata, said US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte who also indicated on Thursday that the United States and Pakistan were working on a more collaborative approach to deal with this problem.
Diplomatic sources in Washington say that the two countries whose relations have been strained after a series of unilateral US military strikes in tribal areas are trying to develop a common strategy to defeat terrorists hiding in that region.
The sources say that they hope to finalise the new strategy before an expected meeting between Presidents George W. Bush and Asif Zardari in New York next week.
“Unilateral actions are probably not a durable or a viable solution over a prolonged period of time,” said Mr Negroponte, the senior-most US diplomat after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“I think the best way forward for both of our countries is to try to deal with the situation in that border area on a cooperative basis.”
Mr Negroponte said that “the best way forward” was to develop a trilateral approach, which includes the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“It’s a bit of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of relationship,” Sadanand Dhume, a South Asia expert at Washington’s Asia Society, told ABC radio.
“And there is a difference between what Pakistan will tolerate as long as it is done privately and what it will publicly accept.”
A senior Pakistani diplomat, who did not want to be identified, told Dawn that while Pakistan would not allow US ground forces inside its territory, it would be more tolerant of US missile attacks on suspected terrorist targets.
The diplomat said that public perceptions of US military actions in Fata would, however, force Pakistani authorities to sometimes condemn air strikes as well.
A recent poll showed 74 per cent of Pakistanis did not support American actions in tribal areas.
Diplomatic observers in Washington say that despite such strong anti-American sentiments, there’s no possibility of Pakistan ever pulling out of the US-led anti-terrorism coalition.
In his statement, issued by the State Department in Washington, Mr Negroponte described America’s partnership with Pakistan as “a very important relationship” in a region where the US has “very important interests”.
“The war in Afghanistan, the issues of dealing with militant extremism in Pakistan, and above all the nexus between the situation in Pakistan and in Afghanistan” made this relationship so important, said Mr Negroponte.
Acknowledging the recent tensions between Islamabad and Washington, Mr Negroponte noted that Pakistan was going through a political transition but hoped that things would begin to stabilise soon.
The top US diplomat, however, conceded that “there have been issues about the degree to which Pakistan has been able or not been able to control the border region”.
Stability in this region, he said, was “not only of importance to the stability of Afghanistan, but also directly relevant to the security of our own forces that operate in Afghanistan”.
Another State Department official, spokesman Sean McCormack, blamed “intra-regional tensions” for problems in Fata but said that such tensions predated America’s recent involvement in the region.
“We want to work effectively with both -- and separately with Afghanistan and with Pakistan, and also we want to bring them together to try to effectively fight extremists,” said Mr McCormack while explaining a key element of the US strategy towards the region.
“The last thing you want is to have violent extremists to be able to exploit any sort of gaps, either political or physical security gaps that exist along that border,” he said.
The two statements reflect the desire of the current US administration to stay engaged with Pakistan, but a recent congressional hearing showed that at least some US lawmakers don’t share this desire.
Chairman of a House panel on South Asia, Congressman Gary Ackerman, described Pakistan as a country at “the bottom one per cent … of the sub-prime borrowers” and questioned the wisdom of lending money to Islamabad, sarcastically calling it “a bastion of economic stability”.
A sub-prime borrower is the one who is most likely to default on the loan he obtains.
Congressman Ed Royce indicated that he feared Pakistan might share F-16 technology with China for developing a new fighter jet.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry thought that there’s a lack of trust between the US and Pakistani militaries.
Congressman Jim Costa noted that Pakistan’s current rulers had “less than a pristine record” in fighting corruption.
But even at the hearing, representatives of the US administration defended Pakistan very strongly.
Donald Camp, a senior official at the State Department’s Bureau for South Asian affairs, said that Pakistan was not only a trusted ally in the war against terror but was also “taking serious casualties in Fata, Swat, Bajaur and Waziristan”.
Mitchell Shivers, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Central Asia, told the panel that “there’s sincerity on Pakistan’s part” in fighting the terrorists.
Besides taking casualties, the Pakistani government is also bearing “political cost” for fighting terrorists in Fata.