A U.S. State Department official says the United States wants to work with Pakistan on counterterrorism and not infringe on Pakistani sovereignty. The comments come just days after a White House official refused to rule out U.S. military action against al-Qaida in remote Pakistani regions, prompting an angry response from Islamabad. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns sought to ease Islamabad's concerns during testimony Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We understand that Pakistan is sovereign in its own country. We understand that Pakistani forces are in the battle, and it is always the preference to work with Pakistan on the issue of counterterrorism," he said.
At the same time, Burns said the United States would keep the option of targeting Osama bin Laden's network in the Pakistani-Afghan border regions in some circumstances. "Given the primacy of the fight against al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, if we have in the future a certainty of knowledge, then of course the United States would always have the option of taking action on its own, but we prefer to work with the Pakistani forces, and in most situations, in nearly every situation, do work with them."
On Sunday, White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend told a television interviewer the United States would consider military action against al-Qaida elements in remote Pakistani regions near the Afghan border, prompting an angry response from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, which said any such action would be unacceptable.
Undersecretary Burns was on Capitol Hill to ask Congress for $750 million over five years to spend on education, health and economic projects in the tribal areas of Pakistan in support of a Pakistani government program to integrate the remote region into the national economy. "I know the Pakistani government recognizes that it cannot defeat terrorism in the northwest frontier province by military means alone. There does have to be a political dialogue in the tribal areas with the people who are influential in those areas. There must be an effort to rebuild the tribal areas to provide the kind of infrastructure that is lacking, access to education," he said.
The proposed aid is part of a larger package of economic and military assistance to Pakistan that could reach one billion dollars over the next several years.
Burns' testimony follows the Pakistani government's use of force earlier this month to end the militant occupation of Islamabad's Red Mosque compound, and new pledges to drive al-Qaida and other foreign forces from tribal areas.