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Pressure Grows On Musharraf After U.S. Vice President's Visit

Cheney and Musharraf in Islamabad today (epa) February 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Pakistan today amid international concerns over Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to fight Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists.

Musharraf is under growing Western pressure to act against Islamic militants thought to be using Pakistan's tribal regions to carry out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Tougher Message

Cheney's met with Musharraf in Islamabad today only hours after "The New York Times" reported that U.S. President George W. Bush had decided to send a tough message to Musharraf.

Reports from Pakistan say Cheney expressed "apprehensions" to Musharraf about the regrouping of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas. Islamabad says Cheney also communicated "serious U.S. concerns" over intelligence about a Taliban spring offensive against Western forces in Afghanistan.

Najib Aamir , RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Pakistan, says Pakistan's official news agency emphasized Cheney's positive comments to Musharraf.

"Musharraf claims that Pakistan has destroyed many hideouts of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistani territory and captured their leaders," Aamir said. "Pakistani state sources quote Dick Cheney as praising Pakistan's efforts. But independent sources report that the U.S. vice president told Musharraf that Islamabad has to do more."

Pakistani Foreign Minister Kurshid Mahmud Kasuri said Cheney's talks with Musharraf were not limited to the military situation in Afghanistan and along the border.

U.K. Offers Praise

"We also discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest including Pakistan-India relations and the composite dialogue for resolution of core issues -- including the Kashmir dispute, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East," Kasuri said.

Cheney's visit took place at the same time that British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was in Islamabad for talks with Musharraf. Beckett offered some praise for Pakistan after a meeting in Islamabad with Foreign Minister Kasuri today.

"It is true of all of us that we have not yet been able to do enough in order to stem some of these threats [by militants]," she said. "We do welcome the efforts that are made by the government of Pakistan, the strength of the cooperation that exists between our two countries, and the foreign minister, and I have both said that we want to see that cooperation strengthened and deepened."

British forces are currently fighting against militants in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand.

Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported that Bush's message warns Musharraf that a new majority of Democrats in the U.S. Congress could cut aid to Islamabad unless Pakistani forces become more aggressive in their hunt for militants.

The report added that the White House has concluded that Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Bush during a visit to Washington in September.

Terrorist Infrastructure Being Rebuilt?

Musharraf insisted then -- both in private and public -- that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in the border area of North Waziristan would not disadvantage the hunt for the leaders of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban or their training camps.

But U.S. intelligence officials now conclude that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt in Pakistan -- and that while Pakistani troops have attacked some of their camps, its overall effort has been waning.

An unnamed senior U.S. official who deals with South Asian issues was quoted as saying that Musharraf is being told that his forces need to achieve better results in the war against terrorists. The Democrats -- who took control of the U.S. Congress last month -- have urged the Bush administration to put greater pressure on Musharraf.

Although Bush publicly praises Musharraf's support on counterterrorism, there has been increasing U.S. frustration over Taliban sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the porous border with Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say the White House has ruled out unilateral strikes against militant training camps that U.S. surveillance satellites have been monitoring in North Waziristan. The fear is that U.S. strikes could damage the stability of Musharraf’s government.

The United States is increasing its military presence in Afghanistan by adding 3,200 troops to help with the spring offensive that is anticipated by the United States and NATO after the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

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