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Boucher in Pakistan on Crucial Visit

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Observers and media have been giving a lot of importance to the visit of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher to Pakistan at a time when the country is in complete disarray. There are expectations that some important messages from the US high officials will be delivered to the President Musharraf. Most likely, the president will be asked to be tough with terrorists and Taliban in tribal areas on the Pak-Afghan border.

According to a initial media report, Richard Boucher, Assistant US Secretary of State for South Asia, Wednesday met Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri in Islamabad.

They discussed the current situation in Afghanistan and bilateral, regional and international affairs in an hour-long meeting at Foreign Office here.

Pakistan foreign minister and US Assistant Secretary of State discussed Pakistan, US strategic relations and progress in talks on the strategic issues, sources said.

Boucher and Kasuri also discussed bilateral anti-terrorism cooperation especially current situation in Afghanistan, Pak-Afghan border affairs and decisions made in recently held Pak-Afghan Jirga in Kabul.

The US official clarified the Bush administration’s stance on recent statements about the US military action within Pakistani territory.

Foreign Minister Kasuri reiterated that only Pakistani forces could act against terrorists within national territory, which is the key principle of Pakistan’s cooperation in war against terrorism.

Earlier,  Richard Boucher arrived in Islamabad Wednesday for talks with Pakistani leaders on a range of issues including security in Afghanistan and recent political developments in Pakistan, officials said.

Boucher arrived on a two-day visit to the Pakistan capital, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Liz Colton said. Talks between the two sides are likely to focus on a recent meeting of Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders to discuss peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan-U.S. relations and Pakistan's internal political situation, a senior Pakistan government official said requesting anonymity. Boucher was to hold talks later Wednesday with President Musharraf as well.

The US official is in Pakistan at a critical time. According to an editorial comment of a leading newspaper, Musharraf has reiterated his stance that there is no threat to his government, though he conceded that his popularity has declined compared to what it was after the October 1999 military takeover.

Speaking at a nationally televised programme Aiwan-i-Sadar sey organised to commemorate the 61st Independence Day, he talked about issues ranging from domestic policies to relations with the rest of the world. As far as the popularity factor is concerned, the President seems not to have the feel of the nation's pulse that was so evident during the judicial crisis.

Keeping the Independence Day celebrations in a low key with Islamabad's main flag hoisting ceremony unusually confined to the four walls of the presidency is also an indication of a growing disconnect between the government and the public.

The people at present are completely disenchanted with the current dispensation for its failure to address their genuine concerns: provide them a respectable living and ensure security of their lives and property, to just mention two fundamentals of a happy existence.

The nation would differ with General Musharraf on several counts when he claims that the government vigorously defended the country's sovereignty and framed policies based on national interest. Perhaps he is right when he says that "we are not fighting terrorism and extremism for the sake of the United States, our own interests."

The President also cited examples where he had gone against the US wishes, saying he would consider it an insult if someone blamed him for serving others' interests. The perception that not only our military strategy vis-a-vis the so-called war on terror but also domestic policies are influenced by the US somehow lingers on in the mind as he thankfully abandoned the idea of slapping emergency after a call from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

General Musharraf's assurance against action by foreign forces in the tribal areas, coming on the heels of threats of strikes inside our territory by some American presidential hopefuls on the basis of 'findings' of the recently released National Intelligence Estimates, is indeed welcome. But this will not help mitigate widespread resentment against the government among tribesmen, who are up in arms against the naked state aggression that shows no sign of ending. The mere "Pakistan First" rhetoric may not suffice unless practical steps are taken to ensure the country's return to civilian rule. A democratically elected government can best meet the challenges facing Pakistan at the moment. 

The tribesmen have urged the US administration to pressure on Pakistani authority to be serious in war on terror. Giving further time to terrorists will be dangerous for the whole world.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur District, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is (more...)

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