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Pakistan's Gilani Cautious Over Obama Strategy For Afghanistan

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (left) and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani at a joint press conference in London today.
(RFE/RL) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani today appeared to give a cool reception to the new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan, which calls on Pakistan to do more to fight Islamic militants and terrorists.

Gilani was speaking in London at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has also urged Islamabad to act decisively against militants.

Gilani refrained from saying anything positive about the U.S. plan, under which 30,000 extra U.S. troops will be sent urgently to neighboring Afghanistan.

He said only that his government needs more time and more information in order to assess the new policy, announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on December 1.

Pakistan has already voiced fears that the surge in troop numbers will lead to more Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border to regroup inside Pakistan, potentially further destabilizing the volatile Pakistani northwest.

Gilani said today that he doubts that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is actually hiding in the lawless border area, as claimed by many in the West.

His comment follows sharp words from Gordon Brown on November 29 that eight years after the Al-Qaeda attack on the United States, Osama bin Laden has "never been near to being caught." Brown called for "far more effective" action from the Pakistani authorities.

And he said Islamabad "must convince" the world that it is taking all the necessary action to control the Al-Qaeda threat.

'Work Together'

Brown did, however, praise the military action undertaken by Pakistan to drive the Taliban out of the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. He repeated that praise today.

"We want to work together in the fight against terrorism," he said. "And I say one of the most -- if not the most -- significant events over the last year has been the determination of the Pakistan government and all political parties in Pakistan to take on the terrorist threat first in the Swat Valley, and now in Waziristan. And I want to praise the Pakistan authorities for that."

And he promised greatly increased aid to Pakistan, aimed at easing the social and economic strains which make Pakistan so vulnerable to extremism.

"I'm pleased to confirm today my offer of a further 50 million pounds [$83 million] to back your plans for long-term stabilization in the border areas," Brown said. "And we will continue to play our part in giving strong support to Pakistan's economic development."

In the wake of Obama's speech, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also promised a steep rise in U.S. support for the Pakistanis, saying that the United States will develop a long-term sustainable relationship with Pakistan.

Her comments at this point appeared aimed at stemming criticism in the domestic Pakistani media that Washington is preparing to abandon the region to its own devices.

That derives from Obama's assertion that the military task in Afghanistan should be completed in time to start a U.S. troop withdrawal by July 2011.