U.S. sends strong message to Pakistan on Taliban
BAGRAM AIRBASE (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney flew into Pakistan and Afghanistan on Monday to press for a united front in the war against the resurgent Taliban, with media reports saying he would tell Islamabad only results count.
Cheney asked Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to take tougher action against Taliban militants and sympathizers on his side of the largely lawless and porous border, where U.S. commanders say the rebels are sheltering and training.
"He asked President Musharraf that Pakistan should do more," a Pakistani official said after the meeting between Cheney and Musharraf at the presidential palace.
The visit came as the New York Times said President Bush had decided to send "an unusually tough message" to a major ally in the war on terror by reminding Musharraf the new Democrat-led Congress would cut aid if he did not do more to combat the Taliban.
"(Musharraf has) ... made a number of assurances over the past few months, but the bottom line is that what they are doing now is not working," the Times quoted an unnamed senior administration official as saying. "The message that we are sending him now is that the only thing that matters is results."
With elections due in Pakistan this year, and U.S. pressure building on neighboring Iran over its nuclear program, analysts say Washington will be careful not to say anything publicly that could hurt Musharraf domestically.
A senior U.S. official recently said pressure was better applied quietly than publicly.
A meeting between Cheney and Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not go ahead as planned. Cheney officials said the reason was weather, amid heavy snow, and they would be rescheduled. Karzai's officials gave no reason for the delay but said the talks would go ahead on Tuesday.
Pakistan, which has lost more than 700 soldiers in battles against rebels and says it has captured hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda militants, says it is doing as much as it can.
Musharraf says Taliban fighters do operate from Pakistan, but their leaders are in Afghanistan.
"The president made it clear to Cheney that Pakistan is doing its best and militancy and violence are Afghanistan's problems and their roots are there, not in Pakistan," the Pakistani official said.
The Afghan government, its foreign allies and the Taliban all warn of a bloody spring offensive as the snows melt within weeks, after 4,000 people died in fighting last year in the bloodiest period since the hardline Islamist government was ousted in 2001.
Each promises to be the one to take the offensive.
Cheney's visit to Islamabad coincided with one by Margaret Beckett, foreign secretary of Britain, which along with Canada provides the major combat back-up to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The U.S., which took command of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan this year, and Britain recently announced an increase in fighting forces, but NATO commanders say they are still short of numbers promised by the alliance.
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad and Terry Friel in Kabul))
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