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Britain backs broad terrorism approach in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Britain’s foreign secretary said on Thursday military action against terrorism must go hand in hand with economic and social development in Pakistan.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband (R) and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri attend a news conference at the foreign ministry in Islamabad July 26, 2007. Miliband said on Thursday military action against terrorism must go hand in hand with economic and social development in Pakistan. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

“Britain has a strong interest in the stability of Pakistan, in defeating extremism and in the development of tribal areas,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Thursday after talks with President Pervez Musharraf and other officials.

Britain last year announced a doubling in its development aid for Pakistan for the next three-year period from 2008.

Miliband, on his first major trip abroad since assuming his post last month, said it was important to target aid effectively in tribal areas, where Islamist militants are active.

Pakistan has bridled over recent comments by U.S. officials suggesting the U.S. military kept open the option of strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda targets on Pakistani soil, but the British minister said allies should work together on terrorism.

“Our determination is to work with the government of Pakistan,” he told Reuters in an interview later on Thursday, refusing to “get into ruling in or out hypotheticals.”

Musharraf is under pressure from the United States and Britain to help defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and wipe out al Qaeda cells hiding in Pakistani tribal lands.

“The abiding theme is that economic, social, and political development has to go together,” Miliband said.

Earlier, Miliband said the United Kingdom backed efforts by Musharraf to tackle Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants and steered clear of criticising him.

INTELLIGENCE SHARING

Miliband said counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan were vital to Britain’s own national security.

Over half of the counter-terrorism operations of its security services are linked to Pakistan, officials said. Pakistani intelligence was central to investigations after an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners last year.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, at a news conference with Miliband, rejected remarks made by a White House spokesman last week, which suggested U.S. forces could carry out attacks on al Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

“Such statements are irresponsible ... In fact they are counterproductive. This may be election season in the U.S. but it should not be at our expense.”

Miliband’s visit, which follows a two-day trip to Afghanistan, came during a difficult period for General Musharraf, who came to power in a coup eight years ago.

He plans to seek a mandate for a second five-year term from the current assembly before it is dissolved for a general election at the end of the year.

Opposition parties, encouraged by the reinstatement last week of a Supreme Court chief justice Musharraf wanted to replace, are expected to lodge constitutional challenges.

Musharraf is also under pressure to quit the army and become a civilian president.

There is strong speculation he will have to strike some form of power sharing deal with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, that will allow her to return from self-exile.

He is also battling a surge in Islamist militancy, including a series of suicide bomb attacks mostly targeting police and soldiers, following the commando assault he ordered this month on a mosque in Islamabad that ran a Taliban style movement.

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