Pakistan Pledges To Fight Extremism, Promote Peace
Pakistan Pledges to Confront Extremists; Strategic Partnership Rooted In Security, Economic Ties, Says Bush
Washington -- Pakistan is a key ally and a vibrant democracy, says President Bush, and the United States will continue building a partnership with its newly elected government to confront terrorism and promote peace in the region.
"The United States supports the democracy and supports the sovereignty of Pakistan," Bush said after his July 28 White House meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. "We also appreciate the prime minister's strong words against the extremists and terrorists who not only would do us harm but have harmed people inside Pakistan."
Pakistan's new government has faced a number of challenges since coming to power in February, including a rising tide of militant groups active in its northwestern and tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, where remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida also have found safe haven and continue staging attacks on Afghans.
"It's a little bit reminiscent of what was taking place in Iraq a couple of years ago," Bush said in a July 15 press conference, adding that he was "troubled" by the flow of extremists into Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan. "All three countries -- the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- share a common enemy."
Strengthening cross-border security is a key component to help democracy take root in Afghanistan, Bush said, as well as safeguarding Pakistan, which is also facing a campaign of political violence from extremist groups. The violence includes the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and a string of recent bombings in Islamabad, Lahore and elsewhere.
"This is our own war," Gillani said following the July 28 meeting with Bush. "This is a war which is against Pakistan. And we'll fight for our own cause."
Since coming to power, Gillani's government has sought to negotiate with militant groups wherever possible, but has deployed Pakistani forces as necessary to secure the border region. Critics have pointed to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's unsuccessful overtures to extremists to argue that the strategy could give extremists the time they need to re-arm and renew attacks, but Bush said he respects Pakistan's sovereignty and appreciated the prime minister's "strong commitment" to regional security.
Development aid and economic assistance to Pakistan also were discussed, not only as tools to discourage would-be extremists, but also as part of what top U.S. officials call an effort to revitalize Washington's relationship with a key regional ally.
During the talks, Bush offered $115 million over two years in new food aid to help Pakistan cope with rising global food prices, according to White House press secretary Dana Perino. Some $42.5 million of that aid could be available over the next six months to nine months. A joint statement issued later in the day highlighted progress in several other areas, including food, health, education, energy and democratic governance.
"We want to help the new leaders modernize the nation in all its aspects," Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a Senate panel June 25. "Modernize democratic institutions. Modernize an economy that can provide jobs to its citizens. Modernize the education system. Modernize the security services so that they can effectively fight terrorists. And, bring the arrangements for the tribal areas up to date so that the writ of government prevails throughout the nation."
Boucher was joined by Mark Ward, assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development, for the Senate testimony. They highlighted efforts to improve education and health care, promote new business opportunities and train government administrators across Pakistan.
"In some communities, this will mean a new road. In some communities, it'll mean a well or an irrigation canal. But in all communities, it will mean giving people a stake in their future," Ward said.
Ward and Boucher urged senators to support funding for reconstruction opportunity zones -- new industrial parks along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border whose manufacturers would create local jobs and benefit from duty-free entry of their goods into the United States.
-- By David I. McKeeby, Staff Writer