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Gilani heads to U.S. to shore up anti-terror policy

Nirupama Subramanian


Maintenance of law and order is

our aim: PM

U.S. to allow Pakistan to upgrade its F-16 fighter jets


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, on Saturday, left on an official visit to the U.S., where he is expected to face tough questions on the government’s policy on tackling terrorism and militancy in the north-west frontier areas bordering Afghanistan.

His visit, at the invitation of U.S. President George W. Bush, comes at a time of international concern that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led government is in such a state of “leaderless drift” — the New York Times description — that it has not yet been able to formulate a coherent policy on dealing with the Taliban’s challenge.

The two leaders are scheduled to meet on Monday.

Recent weeks have seen the U.S., Afghanistan and India telling Pakistan that “elements” in the state apparatus are assisting the Taliban mount attacks inside Afghanistan. In addition, the U.S. and Afghanistan have been blunt in their criticism of the government’s strategy of opening peace agreements with militants.

NATO-ISAF forces in Afghanistan have reiterated several times that the peace deals have helped the Taliban carve out safe havens in the tribal areas from where they are making cross-border incursions to launch attacks.

Since it came to power, the PPP-led alliance has gone from a policy of “only talks” with the militants to “selective use” of military force, and as that came under fire at home, to a decision that force would be used as a “last resort” and Parliament would forge a consensus on how to deal with the growing challenge presented by the Taliban. Before his departure, Mr. Gilani attempted to address some of these concerns while speaking to media at the airport. “We have a clear stance on the issue of terrorism and extremism. This is our own fight. This is our own cause. I have lost my own leader because of terrorism,” he said, referring to the assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

Priorities

He said maintenance of law and order, and enforcing the authority of the government was the main priority. “My priority number one is to maintain law and order in the country and I want that writ of the state should not be challenged,” he added.

The visit began on an encouraging note with the Bush administration’s decision to divert $230 million of the annual $300-million “war on terror” assistance to Pakistan to allow it to upgrade its F-16 jets.

The Dawn described the move as a sign of “maturity” in U.S.-Pakistan relations, and said it bode well for “building trust” between the two countries.

Mr. Gilani said before his departure he wanted to “further enhance” cooperation between the two countries. His visit also times with a World Bank-organised investors’ conference on Pakistan’s power sector, to which at least two Indian companies — Reliance and Essar — have also been invited.

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