Nirupama Subramanian

$750 million for development of frontier tribal areas

  • Up to Musharraf to decide on the issue of his controversial dual office: Negroponte
  • U.S believes elections should go forward; this will be a positive development for democracy

    ISLAMABAD: The United States on Saturday praised Pakistan for its contribution in the "war against terrorism," announced a $750 million package for the development of the country's frontier tribal areas and sought to play down its role in resolving President Pervez Musharraf's worst political crisis while emphasising the need for free and fair elections.

    First visit

    John D. Negroponte, on his first visit to Pakistan after becoming Deputy Secretary of State for South Asia, said at a press conference that it was only in the "most general terms" that he discussed the political situation in the country during his meeting with President Musharraf earlier in the day.

    Mr. Negroponte called on Gen. Musharraf hours after Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, who has emerged as a powerful symbol of anti-government protests for defiantly resisting his ouster, set out on another marathon weekend procession, this time to address a lawyers' convention in Faisalabad.

    Biggest hurdle

    The U.S official, whose visit partially coincided with that of Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher, said it was up to Gen. Musharraf to decide how to deal with the issue of his controversial dual office.

    Gen. Musharraf's political opponents believe that his plan to seek re-election in uniform would place the biggest hurdle in the path of democracy and want the U.S. to use its leverage over him to quit as Army Chief.

    Keeping the pledge

    They were encouraged by a statement by the State Department spokesman earlier in the week that the U.S. expects Gen. Musharraf to keep his pledge that if he continued in politics, it would not be in uniform.

    But Mr. Negroponte said: "That's something that President Musharraf will himself want to decide and this is a matter up to him, he will make that decision based on all considerations he considers to be relevant with respect to the situation."

    "Not brokering deal"

    It was not appropriate for a foreign government official to enter into details about "individual relationships within the political arena" as this was "something to be resolved by Pakistani political actors themselves," Mr. Negroponte said when asked if he was here to broker a deal between Gen. Musharraf and Pakistan People's Party leader Benazir Bhutto.

    But the U.S "strongly believes that [the elections] should go forward, that this will be a positive development for democracy here and it is important that the elections be carried out in a free, fair and transparent manner," the official said.

    Comprehensive strategy

    Associated Press of Pakistan, the official news service, said that in talks with the visiting Deputy Secretary, Gen. Musharraf reiterated Pakistan's firm resolve to fight extremism and terrorism and called for "a comprehensive strategy" to address this threat, while Mr. Negroponte lauded Pakistan's contribution to combating extremism and terrorism and the President's important role in this regard.

    Mr. Negroponte told journalists that the message he had brought was one of "friendship, trust and support for the Government and the people of Pakistan."

    He said Pakistan had made "great, great sacrifices" in the "war against terror," and the U.S. valued its contribution greatly, and a statement by him to Congress earlier this year as the Director of National Intelligence that Pakistan should "do more" was not meant to diminish this contribution.

    "It is also fair to say that we all can do more in the war against terrorism to bring it to a successful end."

    Holistic approach

    Endorsing President Musharraf's stand that the tribal areas in the sensitive Pakistan-Afghanistan border had to be weaned away from terrorism and extremism through a "holistic" approach, Mr. Negroponte said the U.S. would soon begin implementing a five-year programme to pump $750 million into the development of the tribal areas.

    The two countries were also preparing for the long postponed second round of their "strategic dialogue" later this year, Mr. Negroponte said.

    Chief of the U.S. Central Command Admiral William Fallon, who arrived separately in Pakistan on Friday, held his own meeting with Gen. Musharraf. A Pakistan military statement said the admiral, whose command covers Afghanistan, conveyed the appreciation of the coalition forces for Pakistan's role in the "war against terrorism."