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Pakistan: Top U.S. Envoy Discusses Antiterrorism Campaign With Musharraf

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is in Pakistan today for talks that focused on the campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Armitage also discussed concerns about the stability of a 6-month-old peace initiative between Islamabad and India.

Prague, 6 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf today at an army base in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, as part of a regional tour focusing on the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Armitage discussed Islamabad's efforts to root out Taliban fighters allegedly sheltering within the autonomous tribal regions of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.

The U.S. envoy today accused some members of Pakistan's security services of showing little energy in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. But he also said he has not seen any indication that Pakistan's security forces -- either individually or as an institution -- are working to undermine Musharraf's efforts in the war on terrorism.

Just a month ago, Armitage angered officials in Islamabad by remarking that elements of Pakistan's security forces may not be committed to the fight against the Taliban.

And yesterday, when Armitage was visiting Kabul, Afghan officials expressed frustration over what they say are ongoing incursions by Taliban fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan. But Armitage had only praise for Musharraf: "I do note with great satisfaction the statements of President Musharraf reported in the Pakistani press [on 5 October], where he talked about the threat to Pakistan being extremists in their midst."

Armitage yesterday also praised recent operations by Pakistani security forces against suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the tribal regions.

"I also note with great approval the tremendous effort in the last couple of days of the Pakistani forces against Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which resulted in the deaths of some and the capture of others. And I just hope that is a trend that is going to continue."

Eight suspected Al-Qaeda fighters were killed in a day-long siege on 2 October in the tribal district of Southern Waziristan. Eighteen Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects also were captured by Pakistani forces. Local intelligence officials say those taken prisoner included local Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen as well as some Uzbeks.

When asked about the recent resurgence of Taliban attacks across much of southern and southeastern Afghanistan -- including attacks on humanitarian-aid workers, schools for girls, Afghan civilians, and troops from the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition -- Armitage said the violence is a signal that the Taliban is becoming desperate in its death throes.

"I think what you are witnessing is a Taliban who is frightened that they see the writing on the wall," he said. "That's why they are attacking so viciously these great signs of progress for the people of Afghanistan. And they are proving themselves, I think, to be an enemy of the people of Afghanistan in the minds of all."

Armitage is accompanied on this trip by Christina Rocca, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. Other meetings for the U.S. envoys in Islamabad today included talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, as well as meetings with officials from Pakistan's Defense Ministry.

Underscoring the importance of today's talks, the chief of the U.S. military's Central Command, General John Abizaid, arrived in Islamabad this morning for separate talks with Musharraf and Pakistani security officials. Abizaid's responsibilities include overseeing the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The U.S. administration also is concerned about the stability of a six-month-old peace arrangement between Pakistan and India.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan today welcomed Armitage's efforts to bolster that peace process.

"The U.S. continues to play a role in persuading India and Pakistan to come to the negotiating table," Khan said. "As far as we are concerned, we are ready for the peace process. We are ready for the resumption of dialogue with India."

Pakistan last week test-fired a nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missile and promised a series of similar tests in the coming days. It was the first missile test by Islamabad since April, when Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee helped defuse tensions between the nuclear rivals with a surprise call for peace with Pakistan.

The 300-kilometer range of the Hatf-3 Ghaznavi missile would enable it to reach several important targets in India. But Indian officials downplayed the latest Pakistani missile test as "nothing special," saying New Delhi had been informed before the test flight.

Meanwhile, U.S. military forces are continuing a series of joint training exercises with Indian forces.

Yesterday, a joint naval exercise began off India's western Malabar coast. Captain Edward Boorda of the U.S. fleet said the exercise will help the U.S. and India work out joint strategies in future operations.

"[The idea is to] promote regional coordination, maybe look at future missions and what our inner operability would do -- how we would work together with that. I think this exercise gives us a great opportunity to do so."

Last month, U.S. Special Forces trained with their Indian counterparts in Indian-administered Kashmir.