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Powell in Pakistan for Talks With Musharraf - 2004-03-17


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Islamabad for talks with President Pervez Musharraf and other officials Thursday on military efforts against Taleban and al-Qaida remnants along the Pakistan-Afghan border. He will also seek more information on the proliferation ring of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

The United States has long been pressing Pakistan for stronger action against the Islamic radicals believed to be using the border region as a staging area for operations into Afghanistan.

Mr. Powell's arrival in the region coincided with a Pakistani military drive that included fierce clashes between troops and suspected al-Qaida militants, which caused heavy casualties on both sides.

The secretary spent most of Wednesday in Kabul, and was briefed by U.S. military commanders on a parallel drive by coalition forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan. At a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he welcomed the Pakistani actions.

"We have been doing everything we can to encourage Pakistani leaders, especially President Musharraf, of course, to be more active along the border areas and the tribal areas. The action in Pakistan yesterday that you make reference to suggests that the Pakistanis have picked up the pace, and we hope they will continue to do that. We regret the loss of Pakistani life in this effort. But it shows, I think, the intentions on the part of Pakistan not to allow these tribal areas to be used as a haven for the Taleban, where they can cause trouble in Afghanistan," he said.

Mr. Powell, asked about so-called "hot pursuit operations" in the area, said the U.S.-led coalition respects the Afghan-Pakistani frontier as a border between two sovereign nations, and said nothing would be done that was not in coordination with both governments.

He said, if Taleban elements are forced back into Afghanistan as a result of Pakistani operations, he is sure that U.S. troops working with Afghan forces will deal with them.

Mr. Powell has said he will press Pakistani officials for more information on the proliferation activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan, including the role that past or current officials of the Pakistani government may have had in Mr. Khan's admitted sales of nuclear weapons secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

The Secretary of State has expressed understanding for President Musharraf's decision to pardon Mr. Khan, a Pakistani national hero for his lead role in developing nuclear weapons for Pakistan. But he has stressed that the pardon is conditional on Mr. Khan fully disclosing his activities, and has said the proliferation ring must be dug out "root and branch."

In a commentary carried in Pakistani newspapers Wednesday, Mr. Powell said the U.S.-Pakistani alliance remains crucial to protecting both countries and the world from terrorism, and is not a "temporary marriage of convenience."

He said the United States has an "abiding commitment" to Pakistan, evidenced by the Bush administration's five-year, three-billion-dollar aid package and another billion dollars in debt relief.

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