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Pakistani, Afghan Diplomats to Meet With US Officials in Washington

The foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan are scheduled to take part in the Obama administration's strategic review of South Asia policy here in Washington this week. The three-party talks come on the heels of a peace agreement between Islamabad and Taliban elements that allows for the implementation of Islamic law in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

Prior to leaving for Washington, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said he believes he can allay U.S. concerns over the agreement that allows Islamic law in the Swat Valley.

Last week, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, said he had conveyed American concerns to Pakistani authorities. Holbrooke, who recently toured the region, said Pakistan's President Ali Zardari sought to assure him that the agreement is an "interim" measure aimed at stabilizing the region. Holbrooke said the Pakistani leader agrees that the militants in the region pose a danger not only to Pakistan, but also to the United States.

NATO has also expressed concern about the agreement, saying it could create a safe haven for extremists. Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has praised the agreement, saying it is in line with his government's policy of dialogue, development and deterrence.

On Sunday, Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas defended Islamabad's decision to negotiate with the militants.

"One must allow these strategies to work to achieve the end goal. The end goal remains the same - the return of peace, tranquility in the [Swat] Valley. That is the end goal," he said. "If it is not being achieved or if it or if it is being achieved at a very heavy cost, which is politically not sustainable, then the government must look for other options. Should the other options not work, the use of force option is always there. The military is not being pulled out of the valley, it is still there. The option would remain available to the government."

Abbas added that the Pakistani military effort in the northwest Swat region is hampered by a lack of what he called "sophisticated" equipment, including attack helicopters and surveillance equipment.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid said last week that Washington is not surprised by the agreement between the militants and the Pakistani government.

"These types of deals have happened before. The direction of events in the Swat Valley is not going in a positive way. What we do want to see is results. We have spoken to the Pakistanis. The ambassador [Richard Holbrooke] has spoken to the Pakistanis. They understand that the threat of terrorism is a threat to them as well as to us," said Duguid. "What we're working toward is a way in which we can all address this common problem. That is part of our review. That is part of what we'll be talking to the Pakistanis about when the delegation arrives here."

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Afghan counterpart, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, are scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of a U.S. policy review panel this week. The panel is tasked with developing proposals on how to improve the security situation in Afghanistan. The proposals that emerge are expected to be shared with U.S. allies in the region.