Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is expected to meet with
top U.S. officials in Washington this week, including President George
Bush. His visit comes during new tensions among Afghan, Pakistani and
U.S. officials over how to counter a growing Taliban insurgency in
Afghanistan. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.
Taliban fighters in Afghanistan launch new offensives each summer when warm weather eases travel and clears passes in the country's rugged mountains. But the summer of 2008 has been particularly violent, with a 40 percent increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan over the previous year.
Just across the border in Pakistan, Taliban militants have expanded their territory and now control large parts of the country's remote tribal areas. Officials in northwestern Pakistan say Taliban influence is spreading out from the tribal regions into larger towns.
U.S. and Afghan officials say countering the Taliban in Afghanistan will require depriving insurgents of their strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says militants who use those bases to launch attacks across the border are his country's most serious threat.
"The fight against terrorism is not in Afghanistan and we will not be secure and safe unless Afghanistan and the international community address the question of sanctuaries in Pakistan and the terrorist training camps there," he said."
But Afghan and Pakistani officials not only argue over what to do about the Taliban sanctuaries, but also who is to blame for the militants' growth. In the past month, officials from both countries have accused their counterparts of supporting Taliban factions. Afghan officials even directly accused Pakistan's military and intelligence services of participating in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Pakistan rejected the allegations.
During a visit to Kabul last week, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer took time to urge both countries to cooperate.
"More than ever we now need a regional approach in trying to stem this situation," he said. "Because I cannot imagine anyone who would consider it acceptable that many terrorists from all over the world gather in a certain area and create mischief and havoc there."
But in recent months, Pakistani officials have made it clear that they are forging their own strategy in countering the militant groups and it is a strategy that favors holding peace talks instead of military operations.
The talks have drawn concern from NATO, Afghan and U.S. officials, who have urged Pakistan to do more to stop the Taliban from launching attacks in Afghanistan.
Rehman Malik is the head of Pakistan's interior ministry. Last week he rejected suggestions that the United States is pressuring the government to move more aggressively against the militant groups.
"We are taking our own actions; we are designing our own policies," said Malik. "There is no interference whatsoever from outside and we will not accept any interference from anywhere."
President Pervez Musharraf is viewed by many Pakistanis as having long followed a military-focused counter-terrorism policy advocated by the United States, which security analyst Talat Masood says damaged his popularity within Pakistan. Masood says the new government is being careful not to follow the same path.
"They don't want to give an impression that they are fighting this war on behalf of America," he said. "So they don't want any American involvement. At the same time I think the present government has not really settled down to an extent to formulate and implement an integrated policy against militancy and the rising insurgency. And meanwhile, the militants are taking full advantage."
In the United States, some officials have responded to the rising Taliban insurgency with proposals for more foreign aid to the Pakistani government, including a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian development package.
Pakistani officials have welcomed proposals for more aid. However, lawmakers in the otherwise fractious coalition government also say there is broad agreement that no outside countries should be involved in how Pakistan chooses to deal with the Taliban militants.
Before leaving Islamabad on Saturday, Prime Minister Gilani told reporters that security issues will be high on the agenda during his U.S. visit. But he said his coalition government will continue to pursue its own strategy in countering the Taliban insurgency.
"This is our own fight, this is our own cause,"said the Pakistani prime minister. "I have lost my own leader because of terrorism. So my priority number one is to maintain law and order in the country."
Besides meeting with President Bush on Monday, Pakistani officials say Mr. Gilani will meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well as the country's two leading presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama.