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U.S. Official Hails Pakistani Military Offensives


Pakistan has been battling militants in its northwest border regions

Pakistan has been battling militants in its northwest border regions

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- A senior U.S. official has praised Pakistani offensives against Islamist militants and played down hopes that negotiations could end violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Boucher on October 20 said the United States and nuclear-armed Pakistan's other allies wanted to support its efforts as it struggles with a balance of payments crisis.

But a Friends of Pakistan group, which includes the United States and is due to meet next month, would not simply offer Pakistan a cash advance, he said.

"We're glad to see serious military action against people whose only goal seems to be to blow up the Pakistani state and society," Boucher told a news conference in Islamabad.

Pakistani forces have been battling militants in the northwest since August and the military says well over 1,000 militants have been killed. There has been no independent verification of that casualty estimate.

The offensives were launched after a surge of militant violence since the middle of last year that has included a wave of suicide bomb attacks, one of which killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Boucher held talks with Bhutto's widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, whose party leads a coalition government and who was elected president last month.

Boucher's visit comes during a period of tension between the allies over U.S. military attacks on militants in northwest Pakistan, including missile strikes by pilotless aircraft and a September 3 U.S. commando raid on a border village.

The attacks have angered Pakistan and led to calls from opposition politicians for an end to support for the unpopular U.S.-led campaign against militancy.

Pakistan says foreign military strikes on its territory violate its sovereignty and increase support for the militants.

Boucher declined to answer questions on the strikes but said the U.S. goal was to help Pakistan establish the writ of government in northwestern ethnic Pashtun areas, where militants orchestrate violence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A small group of U.S. personnel is helping to train Pakistani paramilitary forces. Boucher said the United States wanted to help Pakistan deal with its own problems. "The only way we're going to be able to solve this ... is dealing with this from both sides [of the border], so there are complementary actions," Boucher said.

Negotiated Solution Sought


A group of Afghans including former Taliban and government representatives met in Saudi Arabia last month for discussions on how to end the worsening conflict there.

All sides agreed that no real peace talks took place but the start of efforts to find a negotiated solution has been seized on as a glimmer of hope.

But Boucher played down prospects for negotiations, although he said there was room for a political process with those who abandoned violence. "There's no practical negotiations going on," he said. "All they're interested in is having more space to rebuild their capabilities," he said of the militants.

Boucher also met some ambassadors from the so-called Friends of Pakistan group at talks with Zardari on economic help. The group is expected to meet in Abu Dhabi in November.

Pakistan is hemorrhaging foreign reserves, and analysts say it needs up to $4 billion urgently to stabilize its economy.

Boucher said multilateral institutions and donor countries' finance ministries were working on details of financial help, and that the "friends" would not be offering Pakistan a "cash advance," but aimed to coordinate strategy.

"The goals is not to throw money on the table but put it where it belongs, so we really cover some of these problems comprehensively," he said.
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