In a tough message to Islamabad, the US has asked the Pakistani leadership to eliminate "safe havens" of terrorists in the country's tribal areas, saying they are "as much a threat to Pakistan as they were to the US and Afghanistan".
This message was conveyed by US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke during his meetings on Tuesday with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, interior ministry chief Rehman Malik and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
In "frank, candid and straightforward" discussions, he told them that the administration of new US President Barack Obama was ready to get the Kerry-Lugar Bill passed for increasing socio-economic aid to Pakistan, implement the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones project in tribal areas and meet military hardware needs for counter-insurgency operations, the Dawn newspaper quoted sources as saying on Wednesday.
In return, Holbrooke reportedly said, the US wanted to see the tribal areas cleared of safe havens for Al Qaida and the Taliban. He said these safe havens are "as much a threat to Pakistan as they were to the US and Afghanistan".
The rest of Holbrooke's discussions with the top Pakistani leaders were of an "exploratory nature" and tried to sound out them out on various aspects of bilateral cooperation in the war on terror.
On his arrival in Pakistan on Monday, Holbrooke had said he was in the country "to listen" and acquaint himself with the ground situation ahead of a review of the US policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. During Holbrooke's meeting on Tuesday with Qureshi, the two sides decided to set up an inter-agency team to review past policies and help re-craft the US policy for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Qureshi will travel to Washington next month for further discussions in this regard. Qureshi said the inter-agency team will include representatives from Pakistan's military.
The Pakistani leaders also told Holbrooke that US drone attacks on militants in the tribal areas are counter-productive for the war on terror because they caused civilian casualties and gave rise to anti-American sentiments.
President Asif Ali Zardari said instead of carrying out drone attacks, the US should share intelligence so that Pakistani armed forces could target the militants. Prime Minister Gilani called for the early resolution of the Kashmir isssue to ensure peace in the region.
Foreign Minister Qureshi also said yesterday that while there are irreconcilable elements that nobody wants to deal with, there is also "a reconcilable element and we should not overlook their importance and their significance".