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U.S. Seeks More Cooperation with New Pakistan President


Pakistan's election of a new president marks not only the country's return to civilian rule, but also what the United States hopes is a shift in the security relationship between Islamabad and Washington.

The United States has two priorities in its dealings with Pakistan -- promoting democracy and combating terrorism, particularly in Pakistan's remote tribal areas. Yet the two are sometimes in conflict, says U.S. Army War College professor Larry Goodson.

"Nowhere in the world is the need for the Bush doctrine of democracy promotion greater than in Pakistan. I mean, if there's one place where we ought to be seeing through how to get these people oriented toward a functioning, stable democracy it ought to be Pakistan," says Goodson. "But also, no place in the world is more significant to be seen through the counterterrorism lens than Pakistan. And those two things seem to run counter to each other in terms of our policy construction."

Delicate Maneuvering

That, analysts say, calls for very delicate diplomatic and political maneuvering in Washington and Islamabad.

U.S. intelligence analysts say Islamist extremist groups -- particularly al-Qaida and the Taliban -- have regrouped and strengthened in recent months in the tribal areas. They have new sanctuaries from which to attack U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. There has also been a sharp rise in suicide bombings in Pakistan. The assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last year is the most prominent example.

After being sworn in on September 9, President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, asserted that Pakistan is solidly in the fight against terrorism.

"Yesterday's war may not have had the people behind it. But today's war does have the people of Pakistan [behind it]. In fact, it has the president of Pakistan, who himself is a victim of terrorism," said Mr. Zardari.

Yet recent public opinion polls show that a majority of Pakistanis favor negotiation over military action against Islamic extremist groups. They are also strongly opposed to cooperation between the United States and Pakistan on counterterrorism.

The U.S. has been urging Pakistan to get tougher with Islamic militants. At least 11 missile strikes by American Predator drone aircraft on militant targets in Pakistan have been reported by Pakistani authorities this year, compared to three in 2007. The United States does not publicly confirm the strikes.

Risky Business?

President Bush is redeploying more troops to neighboring Afghanistan. And Pakistan says U.S. ground forces there crossed into Pakistan earlier this month to attack a suspected al-Qaida hideout. The United States has not officially confirmed this action, either.

Alan Kronstadt, a Pakistan analyst at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service here in Washington, says the alleged raid has put Pakistan's fragile new government in a risky position.

"From my perspective, there is a danger of putting the civilian political leadership in Islamabad in something of a vise, with continuing direct U.S. military incursions into Pakistani territory," says Kronstadt. "This is a very sensitive thing and any representative government in Islamabad is going to come under pressure when that country's territorial integrity seems to be under threat."

At a recent forum, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said Washington and Islamabad have different views of what constitutes terrorism and the best way to counter it.

"Our concerns are the same. America is concerned about global terrorism. We are concerned about terrorism," said Haqqani. "But, again, there are people in Pakistan who argue, 'You know what? Our priority is local terrorism and the American priority is global terrorism.' And, again, there is this debate going on."

Analyst Alan Kronstadt says Washington must be careful not to put undue pressure on Pakistan's fragile new government.

"The United States ramps up pressure on Pakistan at the same time that U.S. military commanders are given an incrementally freer hand to pursue the kinds of actions they would like to take on or over Pakistani territory," says Kronstadt. "And it's a matter of how far can it go, how much can this new civilian government be seen to be allowing this before there's some sort of break."

The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and Pakistan's military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, met aboard an American aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean late last month to discuss joint efforts. The extent of counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries is not publicly known.

Security Dilemma for U.S. Forces

Pakistan's response to the alleged U.S. cross-border raid was muted, as enunciated by Pakistan's Ambassador Haqqani.

"Unilateral action by American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion in the federally administered tribal areas. And in this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops that undertook that action," says Haqqani. "That said, Pakistan and the United States have a resilient relationship and we will not let this incident come between close ties and strong military intelligence and political cooperation between our countries and governments."

Pakistani officials have denied giving any green light to the United States to attack targets on Pakistani soil.

U.S. officials say that elements of Pakistan's military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are sympathetic to Islamic militants, and may even be aiding them. Many of the local recruits of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which guards the border in the tribal areas, are also believed to be sympathetic to the extremists.

That presents a security dilemma for U.S. forces. They want to enlist Pakistan's cooperation in their efforts, but they are concerned that if they notify Pakistani officials in advance of a raid, someone will leak that information to the militants.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.