Premier Seeks More U.S. Aid For Pakistan: WSJ

Premier Seeks More U.S. Aid For Pakistan By Zahid Hussain
The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2008

Pakistan 's new prime minister said he is urging the U.S. to increase its economic and defense assistance to help strengthen his country's newly elected democratic government.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also said he is willing to work with President Pervez Musharraf, a main U.S. ally in its battle against Islamist terrorism, but he would let his party decide whether to try to force the president from office.

Mr. Musharraf is facing mounting pressure from his political opponents to resign or face removal from office. Earlier this week, the new government introduced measures designed to reduce the president's powers to dismiss the government and dissolve parliament.

Mr. Gilani said further U.S. assistance "will help deliver a democracy dividend to the people" after Pakistan held landmark elections for a new parliament in February.

He also said further aid is needed to help provide political and economic stability as the nation seeks to fight terrorism. Pakistan has received more than $11 billion from the U.S. , most of which has gone to the military, since it joined the U.S.-led fight against terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Mr. Gilani didn't specify how much further assistance Pakistan is seeking. He made his case for further aid during a recent meeting in the Middle East with President Bush.

Mr. Gilani said the use of military means alone to try to stamp out militancy from Pakistan 's hinterlands would never bring peace. "We need to review our strategy to deal with the situation in the tribal region," he said.

Western intelligence agencies contend that Pakistan 's tribal region has become a major operating center for the al Qaeda terrorist organization and a launching pad for assaults on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's troops in neighboring Afghanistan .

Mr. Gilani, 55 years old, heads a fractious coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The new government has taken a different tack in the battle against terrorism than that followed by Mr. Musharraf. Mr. Gilani's government has been negotiating with militants and exchanging prisoners.

The latest accord came Wednesday, when the government signed a peace deal with a Taliban militant group in the Mohamand tribal region near the Afghan border. The deal includes a pledge from the militants' leader not to target security and government officials, a government official said.

Mr. Gilani said the government is talking only to the tribesmen who renounce violence and surrender their weapons. But U.S. and NATO officials argue that the peace deals have allowed militants time to regroup.

The prime minister said Pakistani forces would remain deployed along the border. And he emphasized the need to increase the strength of Afghan troops on the Afghan side of the border, saying there is an inadequate force to protect against border crossings.

Eight weeks after a new coalition government was formed, Pakistan continues to reel from internal political strife. The coalition that emerged from February's elections began to fall apart after a major coalition partner -- the Pakistan Muslim League (N) led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- pulled its ministers from the cabinet.

The PPP and Mr. Sharif disagreed over how to restore judges ousted by Mr. Musharraf when he declared a temporary state of emergency late last year.

The fate of Mr. Musharraf and how the government should deal with him has added a further destabilizing element.

Mr. Gilani said he would maintain a working relationship with Mr. Musharraf for now. "I have no problem working with him, but will go by the party's decision," the prime minister said.

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