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US Diplomat Says Pakistan Misunderstood Remarks on Terrorist Campaign - 2004-04-06

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan says Pakistan misunderstood remarks he made earlier about Islamabad's efforts to clean out terrorist sanctuaries along the border area. The ambassador's remarks ignited a firestorm in Pakistan.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad moved Tuesday to soothe official anger in Islamabad over remarks made a day earlier.

Speaking at the National Press Club Tuesday, Mr. Khalilzad reiterated his praise for Pakistan's recent offensive against terrorist sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas of Waziristan.

"Factually, it's true that Pakistan has made a good effort in Waziristan. And as I said before, we applaud them for that, and because Pakistani soldiers died in that operation. So that's positive. But the job is not finished yet, and I don't think the Pakistanis will say the job is done," he said.

In a speech Monday, Mr. Khalilzad said Pakistan's efforts to wipe out al-Qaida and Taleban sanctuaries along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were not yielding sufficient results. In tough language, he said either Pakistan must do the job or the United States will do it.

"We cannot allow this problem to fester indefinitely. We have told the Pakistani leadership that either they must solve this problem or we will have to do so ourselves," he said. "We prefer that Pakistan takes responsibility, and the Pakistani government agrees. We are prepared to help President Musharraf. However, one way or the other, this problem will have to be dealt with."

In response, Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani called the comments "unwarranted and uncalled for."

"Pakistan is quite capable of taking firm action against all undesirable elements and does not require any outside assistance," he said.

Asked about Pakistan's reaction to his remarks, Mr. Khalilzad said he had been misunderstood. "I said there were alternative ways of dealing with this problem. And the Pakistanis are upset because they would like to deal with this problem. And we prefer that as well, that they deal with it, and we're ready to help them. That's what I said yesterday," he said. "And I'm repeating that. I think that they may have misunderstood. Again, they've reacted to some press reports as regard to what I have said."

Remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida have taken sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal areas from U.S. forces hunting them in Afghanistan. The border has little meaning to tribes who move freely back and forth across the border, and the Pakistani government has traditionally refrained trying to enforce its laws there. The recent Pakistani military operation in South Waziristan, in which 60 suspected militants and 50 Pakistan soldiers died, was a radical departure from the traditional autonomy of the tribal regions.