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Pakistan/U.S.: Powell, Musharraf to Discuss Terrorism, Proliferation, Kashmir

  • Frank Csongos

America's top diplomat, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, is due to arrive in Pakistan later today for talks with President Pervez Musharraf.

Washington, 17 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to arrive later today in Islamabad and to meet tomorrow with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to discuss the war on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and the dispute over Kashmir.

Powell, who is on a tour of the region, said today during a visit to Kabul that the United States is encouraging Pakistani forces to be more active in border areas with Afghanistan in the hunt for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. U.S. forces last week launched a spring offensive as part of what military officials describe as a continuing effort to keep pressure on "terrorist organizations and their infrastructure."

"U.S. forces have been focused on the region down along the Pakistan border [with Afghanistan], and we been doing everything we can to encourage Pakistani leaders, especially President Musharraf, of course, to be more active along the border areas and the tribal areas," Powell said.

Powell said U.S. military forces in Afghanistan are prepared to deal with any militants who may be forced to cross the border. "If Taliban elements are forced from Pakistan back into Afghanistan as a result of actions on the Pakistan side of the border, I am sure that our military forces here [in Afghanistan], working with Afghan forces, will deal with those elements," he said.

The United States considers Musharraf a key ally in the region. Prior to the 11 September attacks, elements of Musharraf's intelligence apparatus were widely reported to be cooperating with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia. The Taliban, meanwhile, was giving sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan changed significantly after Musharraf agreed to support America's military campaign to oust the Taliban and to join the war on terrorism. Pakistan reportedly has captured more than 500 suspected Al-Qaeda members. Many of them have been turned over to U.S. authorities. The U.S. administration responded by promising massive economic and military aid to Pakistan.

Thomas Donnelly is a senior fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, an independent public-policy-research organization. "The reversal of course of the Pakistani government since 11 September is nothing short of miraculous. Yes, Pakistan still has tremendous problems of its own governance, has tremendous problems of its own terrorist and Islamic radical elements involved," Donelly told RFE/RL.

Donnelly sees Musharraf as a friend of the United States, though one who lacks democratic credentials. Musharraf came to power in October 1999 through a bloodless military coup.

Husain Haqqani is an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an independent public-policy-research organization. He, too, sees Musharraf as an important leader but one who is vulnerable to Islamist political pressures. Haqqani says curbing Islamist militancy is an essential ingredient for a stable Pakistan. And Musharraf, he says, has not yet fully adopted that policy.

"I think Pakistan is in a totally different league from other allies. It's a bit like Saudi Arabia -- too close to be treated as an enemy, but having too much of animus to be trusted as a friend. And I think that is something that should be an integral part of U.S. policy towards Pakistan, including General Musharraf," Haqqani said.

Haqqani says the United States should rely less on Musharraf and focus instead on restructuring the Pakistani system by building democratic institutions to guarantee political stability.

Danielle Pletka, a vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, also told RFE/RL that the United States' reliance on one leader is problematic. "There is a big problem when you have one significant figure. And, I think, we would have real problems if Musharraf suddenly disappeared from the scene. There is no question Al-Qaeda would like to see him disappear, as well as a number of Islamic groups -- extremist groups -- inside Pakistan," Pletka said.

Also on Powell's agenda in Islamabad will be the issue of nuclear proliferation. In the Indian capital, New Delhi, yesterday, Powell said he intends to press Musharraf on whether Pakistani officials assisted nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan in transferring nuclear-weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Khan earlier this year disclosed his role in selling nuclear secrets to foreign governments. He was later pardoned by Musharraf.

Musharraf has told U.S. officials that the Pakistani government was unaware of Khan's actions. But U.S. officials believe the scope of Khan's dealings indicate there must have been some knowledge by members of the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

Another key concern to the United States is the long-running dispute between India and Pakistan over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Powell has praised recent improvement in relations between the two countries.

Speaking in New Delhi yesterday after talks with Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, Powell said, "We did discuss the regional situation, and I am pleased that India and Pakistan are moving ahead with the framework that was laid out between Musharraf and [Indian] Prime Minister [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee in January."

The framework agreement concerns the Kashmir dispute and nuclear security. It calls for confidence-building measures, dialogue and reducing tensions between the two nuclear rivals.