Gilani assures Bush of cooperation in war on terror

July 29th, 2008 - 3:02 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, July 29 (IANS) Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani assured US President George W. Bush of continued cooperation in the war on terror and also took up the issue of attacks by coalition forces inside Pakistan when the two leaders met at the White House, a Pakistani official privy to the talks said Tuesday. Terrorism and extremism remained the focus of talks Monday during Gilani’s first visit to the US since the coalition government led by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) took power in the country.

As the two leaders discussed the terrorism issue, a missile strike on a suspected Taliban hideout in Pakistan’s northwest Waziristan area killed six people.

According to the official, Gilani raised the issue with Bush and said coalition forces should not launch attacks inside Pakistani territory.

Commenting on the issue, Gilani told reporters after the talks that if the US was involved in Monday’s strike, it would be considered an attack on Pakistan’s solidarity.

The prime minister reportedly argued that the people of Pakistan, including those living in the tribal areas, were peace-loving except for some elements who wanted to destroy the country’s image.

A joint statement was issued after the Gilani-Bush meeting in which the two sides agreed that the focus of their broad-based relationship should remain on ensuring the well-being of the people — by assisting Pakistan to implement its national development agenda in a comprehensive manner.

The US will provide $115.5 million in food-security assistance to Pakistan, including $42.5 million over the next nine months.

“Pakistan and the US will work together to eliminate the threat of extremism, build strong democratic institutions, modernise education and increase economic growth and opportunity,” the statement said.

Bush and Gilani attached importance to the next round of the strategic dialogue, which would be co-chaired by the US deputy secretary of state and the foreign minister of Pakistan in September 2008 and regularly thereafter to review issues of mutual interest.

In addition, the two leaders committed both countries to undertake steps in development, counterterrorism, economic and regional cooperation.

The two leaders, the statement said, also “pledged to work together to address extremism and to deny any space to militants or terrorists through increased cooperation. The president recognised the sacrifices the people of Pakistan and the Pakistani security forces had rendered in the ongoing fight”.

While Gilani took up the issue of attacks inside Pakistan with Bush, there were reactions back home too.

“How long will we continue to watch the US interests… the attacks by the American forces inside Pakistan are attacks on its sovereignty,” said retired army general Talat Masood.

He added that Pakistan should take up the issue of American attacks inside the country with full force.

“This is the time for the civilian government to act through parliament and to make all decisions within the parliament,” said foreign policy expert Islam Elahi.

DPA adds from Washington: “We are committed to fighting against those extremists and terrorists who are destroying and making the world not safe,” Gilani said at the White House. “And this is our own war. This is a war which is against Pakistan, and we’ll fight for our own cause.”

The Bush administration has been frustrated by the slow response of the Pakistani government to the ability of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants to find safe haven in Pakistan tribal regions to carry out attacks on US forces in Afghanistan.

The issues have been a rising source of tension between the two countries, but Bush expressed confidence that Pakistan remains a strong US ally in the war on terrorism.

“We talked about the need for us to make sure that the, you know, Afghan border is secure as best as possible. Pakistan’s made a very strong commitment to that,” Bush said.

The Bush administration has been sceptical of Pakistani efforts to negotiate peace in the tribal regions, pointing out that past talks have failed to achieve security while making it easier for militants to operate.

The meeting came as a suspected US air strike Monday in Pakistan killed six people, including three militants and al-Qaeda’s leading explosives expert and his wife, Pakistani authorities confirmed.

The White House did not comment on the air strike, but a US official in Washington said that the death of Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar would be welcome news.

“If the reports do turn out to be true that he is longer with us, it would definitely be a victory against al-Qaeda, having taken out a key explosives operative” who was training the next generation of al-Qaeda recruits, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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