A top U.S diplomat has urged Pakistan and Afghanistan to increase anti-terror coordination saying they must extend their governments' authority to their border regions in order to check rising militant activities. Speaking at the end of his three-day trip to Pakistan, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher also supported Afghan and NATO concerns that al-Qaida and Taliban militants are freely using sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border. Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
U.S-led coalition forces fighting Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Afghanistan have suffered their highest monthly death toll in the month of June since launching military operations in the country in 2001.
Coalition commanders and Afghan officials blame militant sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border for the rise in insurgent attacks.
Speaking to reporters after talks with Pakistani leaders, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said that al-Qaida and Taliban threat is growing in tribal regions of Pakistan. He reiterated that Afghan and coalition forces must tackle militants on their side of the border while Pakistani troops need to act on their side.
"We know that suicide bombers get trained there and they are coming in both directions," he said. "They come to kill innocent Afghans and they come to kill innocent Pakistanis. We can do a lot on the Afghan side in terms of stabilization and stopping people from trying to come across the border but in the end the Pakistanis have to take actions on the Pakistani side to get at these militants who are harming all of us."
Boucher says that Washington supports the Pakistani government's policy of securing the border areas by negotiating deals with tribal leaders to encourage them to expel foreign militants from their areas. But he says the United States is opposed to striking deals with militant leaders.
"We don't support making concessions to violent leaders like Baituallah Mehsud. We don't support releasing terrorists in the wild so that they can strike again. But we do support working with the tribes so that the tribes become responsible for their own security," said Boucher.
Mehsud is a self-proclaimed commander of the Pakistani Taliban militants and is believed to be closely linked to the al-Qaida network. He is blamed for a series of suicide attacks across Pakistan and for sending fighters across the border to help Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Relations between the two important U.S allies in the anti-terror war have strained in recent days over allegations that Pakistan is not moving against Mehsud and is not doing enough to check Taliban insurgents from crossing into Afghanistan.
Richard Boucher says in his meetings with government officials and politicians he also discussed political issues and challenges facing Pakistan. The senior U.S diplomat rejected criticism the United States is not happy with the emergence of the new Pakistani government after a general election in February and is still support President Pervez Musharraf even though he has become increasingly isolated.
The new ruling coalition is packed with anti-Musharraf parties calling for the president to step down or face possible impeachment in the parliament. However, there is a disagreement between major coalition partners on how to do it and also on how to resolve the issue of dozens of judges President Musharraf sacked in November when he imposed a six-week-long emergency rule in the country.
But Boucher says this is not the main issue confronting Pakistanis.
"Frankly, President Musharraf is not the issue right now. This is not the problem that Pakistan faces right now," he said. "The problem Pakistani people face is the danger of bombings, suicide bombers, rising food prices. There are energy difficulties. Their electricity is being cut off through load shedding."
Critics of the new government in Pakistan say the political issues have prevented the rulers from focusing on issues such as widening trade and fiscal deficit, chronic power and energy shortages as will as rising militancy in the tribal areas.