Pakistan sees ‘hope’ in Obama approach

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi meets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Pakistan is optimistic about the Obama administration’s commitment to its region and will work with the United States on trying to root out extremism within its borders, Pakistan’s foreign minister said.

Following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi cited a “convergence of interests” between Washington and Islamabad and a “willingness to work together.” “I see a lot of hope in the new administration, the new leadership, and Pakistan is willing to work with the American administration to fight extremism and terrorism,” he said Tuesday. “We are determined to defeat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” Qureshi is in Washington to take part in strategic review of U.S. policy to stabilize Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. The effort is being led by South Asian security expert Bruce Reidel and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin D. Spanta also was leading a delegation from his country to take part in the review. He and Qureshi will meet with both Clinton and Holbrooke this week. U.S. President Barack Obama and Clinton tapped Holbrooke as special representative for the two countries, a signal of how the new administration considers Afghanistan and Pakistan intertwined in any solution to the war in Afghanistan and the terrorist threat along their shared border. “We are consulting very closely with the government of Pakistan on our strategic review of our way forward and I’m very grateful for the minister’s advice and counsel,” Clinton said after meeting with Qureshi.

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Last week Obama announced he is sending another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight a strengthening insurgency, which Obama has called the “central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.” The troops will be sent to southern Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan and is a haven for Taliban insurgents. Pakistani officials have expressed concern the deployment will push the Taliban across the border into Pakistan and further destabilize their country. The Obama administration is conducting several reviews of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including a review by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in the region. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the original mission in Afghanistan was “too broad” and needs to be more “realistic and focused” for the United States to succeed. Pakistan is engaged in its own effort against Taliban militants in its Northwest Frontier Provence. The militants, who effectively control the country’s Swat Valley, extended a cease-fire Tuesday as part of an agreement with the government, a deal the U.S. and NATO warn risks granting a safe haven to extremists near the Afghan border. Watch why the deal is being viewed as a capitulation » Swat Valley was once one of Pakistan’s biggest tourist destinations. It is situated near the Afghanistan border and about 186 miles (300 kilometers) from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. In recent months, militants have unleashed a wave of violence that has claimed hundreds of lives across the province. The militants want to require veils for women and beards for men and to ban music and television. The fighting has displaced nearly half of Swat’s population, officials said. The central government has long exerted little control in the area, but it launched an intense military offensive in late July to flush out militants. As retaliation for the military presence, the Taliban carried out a series of deadly bombings, beheadings and kidnappings — and said the attacks will continue until the troops pull out. The Taliban said Tuesday it was indefinitely extending a cease-fire Taliban leaders declared eight days ago after signing a controversial deal with the government to impose Islamic law, or Sharia, in the region.

The Pakistani government’s decision now to negotiate with Pakistan has been met with international criticism. Holbrooke has said the Obama administration was “troubled and confused” by the truce in Swat. Holbrooke and NATO officials have expressed concerns that such an accord could cede effective control of the Swat Valley to extremists.