Dick Cheney, US vice-president, on Monday flew to Pakistan and Afghanistan to convey US concerns over a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda and to impress on General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler, the need for tougher action before an expected spring offensive by militants.
With the stability of Afghanistan’s weak central government at stake, strains are emerging in the US relationship with Gen Musharraf.
Analysts said Mr Cheney was in a good position to gain leverage for stronger military co-operation by using threats by Democrats in the US Congress to cut assistance to Pakistan.
Statements from Washington and Islamabad reflected the US desire to increase pressure on Gen Musharraf while not endangering the relationship.
“The Pakistanis remain committed to doing everything possible to fight al-Qaeda but, having said that, we also know that there’s a lot more that needs to be done,” said Tony Snow, White House spokesman.
A Pakistan official said: “Nobody’s talking of a divorce here.”
Western diplomats in Islamabad said the US message was driven mainly by recent intelligence reports concluding that al-Qaeda, forced out of Afghanistan by US forces in 2001, was regrouping in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border following a controversial agreement made by Gen Musharraf with tribal leaders last year.
A diplomat commented: “This agreement has not helped the US. Last year alone there were well over 100 suicide attacks in Afghanistan. The message from the vice-president was therefore blunt.”
Separately, Margaret Beckett, UK foreign secretary, also met Gen Musharraf to discuss securing the border with Afghanistan. Des Browne, UK defence secretary, later confirmed to parliament that Britain would send 1,400 more troops to Afghanistan to join the 6,300 already there.
Mr Cheney’s visits to two key US allies were not previously announced. However, his office said talks with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, were delayed because of bad weather on arrival at Bagram air base.
Gen Musharraf’s office said Mr Cheney praised Pakistan’s contribution to the war against terror but also “expressed US apprehensions of regrouping of al-Qaeda in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat”. Mr Cheney was said to have expressed “serious concern” over the impending offensive by the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Tariq Fatemi, a former senior Pakistani diplomat, said: “One key contradiction is that Gen Musharraf had appeared unwilling to completely marginalise the Taliban and al-Qaeda while still wanting to satisfy the US. This is not possible anymore.”
In Washington, Alexis Debat, analyst with the Nixon Center think-tank, said it was likely Mr Cheney had offered Pakistan more military assistance, such as training with US forces, to operate in such a hostile environment as Waziristan, or even joint operations.
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