Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, on Monday said Pakistan must not begin talks with the Taliban as negotiations had failed in the past, and praised the government for the its military operations in the tribal areas.

Mr. Boucher met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani, and also the NWFP’s political leadership.

On Monday, he attended a meeting of envoys of the countries grouped as Friends of Pakistan — presided over by Mr. Zardari — that discussed Pakistan’s $4-billion resource gap. However, he said there would be no cash aid from the Friends of Pakistan, and was quoted by the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan as saying the group would discuss extending “systematic support to Pakistan for various projects.”

Shaukat Tareen, Prime Minister’s adviser on Financial Affairs, had said if Pakistan failed to get cash from Friends of Pakistan or from China and Saudi Arabia, it would unveil its “Plan C” and approach the IMF.

Burdened by its troubles, the government backed off on Monday from a confrontation with the former Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhary, and his supporters. Mr. Chaudhary had been invited by the Supreme Court Bar Association to address lawyers. At first, he was denied entry into the high security zone. But as the matter seemed to be heading towards a confrontation, the administration decided to let him proceed. He made a grand entrance and was received by SCBA’s outgoing president Aitzaz Ahsan to a massive round of applause.