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South Asia: Pakistani Appointee Vows To Do Good By Afghanistan

Pro-Taliban militants line a road in the Swat Valley in October (AFP) The Pakistani government's selection to serve as chief minister for restive western tribal areas has stressed the need to "restore peace and security" in the Pashtun-dominated area and foster good relations with neighboring Afghanistan.

Amir Haider Khan Hoti, who heads Pakistan's secular Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), also warned in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan of a growing Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency.

"We need stable, friendly, and cordial relations with Afghanistan," Hoti said. "Pakistan needs peace and stability in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan needs a stable and friendly Pakistan."

The U.S. intelligence community and Afghan central government have repeatedly asserted that Islamist radicals are exporting terror from hiding places in lawless regions of western Pakistan, particularly the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) where Hoti's responsibilities will lie.

Embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has acknowledged that Islamic extremists pose a threat and has led sporadic efforts to root out militants and firebrand clerics who foment violence.

"Our priorities are clear. We first want to move toward peace through negotiations, jirgas (tribal councils), and dialogues," Hoti said. "God willing, we will learn from [failed talks and jirgas in the past] and will try not to repeat the same mistakes. We will try to take into confidence our people, our tribal elders, and our [clerics] -- and, together with them, we will try to move toward peace through negotiations."

He said such consultations had already begun in the district of Swat, a hotbed of tension and violence near the Afghan border where reports have stoked fears of increased Taliban influence.

Hoti outlined a need for reforms amid long-standing disappointment among NWFP residents, who have historically kept central authorities at arm's length and suffered economically.

"We definitely need change in that region, because these regions have been run under a [draconian] legal regime since the British [colonial rule in the 19th century]," Hoti said. "That system has alienated and disappointed our brothers living in those regions. We will try our best to bring economic and political reforms to those regions so that the lives of people can improve. Reforms there are a must."

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also the author of the weekly Gandhara Briefing newsletter, which features some of best reporting and analysis on Afghanistan and Pakistan.