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US Envoy Says 'Significant Progress' Against Pakistani Taliban


U.S Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke is praising what he calls Pakistan's "significant progress" in the anti-terrorism fight. Mr. Holbrooke is in Pakistan meeting with government officials and opposition politicians to discuss among other things Pakistan's war against extremism and economic challenges.

Mr. Holbrooke arrived in Pakistan days after a suspected U.S drone strike in the South Waziristan tribal region is believed to have killed Baitullah Mehsud, top leader of Taliban extremists in Pakistan.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the U.S envoy said the Pakistani military's fight against extremism has seen considerable progress within the past six months.

Mr. Holbrooke says that Pakistan is safer with the apparent death of militant leader Mehsud, which has reportedly triggered an internal struggle for succession among his commanders.

"We are much better off today, and we appeared to be [have] one less very bad person around, Baitullah Mehsud," said Richard Holbrooke. "And, perhaps, more, if the reports of internal struggles resulting in killing of some of the leaders by each other is true."

Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi said signs of a deepening rift among Mehsud's fighters have encouraged the country's anti-terrorism forces.

"There is confusion, there is disarray [and] they have yet not been able to nominate someone to succeed him [Baitullah Mehsud]," said Shah Mehmood Qureshi. "The fact that a person who has been responsible for major terrorist activities within Pakistan has been taken out is seen as a positive development. And that has given confidence to people who have been fighting extremism and terrorism in Pakistan."

Both the Pakistani minister and Mr. Holbrooke described the military offensive in and around the northwestern district of Swat as successful. Pakistan says it has killed more than 1,800 militants and has lost over 300 soldiers since launching the offensive nearly four months ago.

The U.S envoy says that the improvement in security has given Washington and Islamabad, as he puts it, breathing room to address economic issues and solve an energy crisis in which millions of Pakistanis go without electricity everyday.

"We shifted the focus deliberately and consciously today to the issue, which every Pakistani tells me is on their minds more than any other, economy and above all energy [crisis]," he said. "And, we are concerned with more than just the western tribal areas, although those remain a central concern."

Special envoy Holbrooke says that, during his stay in Pakistan, he plans to travel to the valley of Swat to show solidarity with hundreds of thousands of displaced families, who have begun to return after the military retook the district from the Taliban.

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