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'Musharraf's US visit an opportunity to ease tensions'

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September 20, 2006 00:14 IST

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's visit to Washington next week to meet with President George Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior US officials offers an opportunity to bolster goodwill between the US and Pakistan and also address growing tensions in the relationship, a Heritage Foundation report has said. 

The report by the conservative think tank, with close links to the Republican leadership, noted, "The visit comes amid simmering frustration on both sides related to an upsurge of violence in Afghanistan by Taliban militants who many believe are sheltered in Pakistan, and to the recent US focus on a civil nuclear deal with India." 

The report by Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at Heritage, who until recently was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and working directly for Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, who chairs the committee, said, "Though the Pakistani and US leaders will publicly tout their growing strategic dialogue on issues such as economics, trade, education, and energy, privately they will need to address the growing problems in the relationship." 

"A key issue the two sides will address is Pakistan's September 5 announcement of a truce with Pakistani tribal leaders who have been sheltering Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border," the report said. 

"The deal is incredibly risky and demands close US scrutiny," the report said and also raised concern over Islamabad's reported release from jail "scores of Taliban militants, many of whom are likely to return to battle against coalition forces in Afghanistan." 

Curtis in her report called on President Bush to "seek clarification from President Musharraf on these worrisome trends and underscore the importance of ensuring that Pakistan does not serve as a safe haven for those who are seeking to destabilise Afghanistan or planning international terrorist operations." 

"This should be a crucial and non-negotiable United States objective," she said. 

The report recalled that in early 2004, "when it became increasingly evident that Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists were enjoying safe haven in the remote border areas, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Henry Crumptom testified on June 13 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the strategic importance of eliminating terrorist safe havens and pointed to Pakistan's military operations in the tribal areas as a sign of success on this front." 

Therefore, Curtis argued in her report, "It is unclear why halting the military operations now is a move in the right direction," and US officials seemingly are giving Musharraf's new strategy "the benefit of the doubt, although "they admit it is unclear whether it will help end attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan or contain the threat of another international terror attack."

The report also said it is likely that Musharraf during his visit to Washington would "seek US support for Pakistan's position on Kashmir, but Washington should make clear that there is no justification for the use of violence." 

"Over the last decade, the US has played a critical role in preventing full-scale war between Pakistan and India, but has been unsuccessful in convincing the two countries to address the fundamentals of their dispute," the report said.

"Recent reports of possible connections of Pakistan-based Kashmir groups to international terrorist plots demonstrate the inherent dangers of Islamabad maintaining a permissive attitude toward indigenous militant groups," Curtis said. 

"President Bush should not shy away from straight talk on terrorism issues and should coax further cooperation from Islamabad in denying safe haven to individuals and groups that threaten both Pakistan and the international community," she argued.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC