ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Political squabbling in Pakistan needs to take a backseat to the country's more pressing issues — security, power and soaring food prices — Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said Wednesday.
After fielding several questions on the future of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has become politically isolated since his party's crushing defeat in February, Boucher told a press conference that the president's political position is not his countrymen's most important concern.
"The problems the Pakistani people are facing are that there's dangers of bombings and suicide bombers. There's rising food prices. There are energy difficulties," Boucher said.
Pakistan's two coalition parties, led by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has serious differences over how to deal with Musharraf and reinstate judges he kicked out last November during a declared state of emergency. These differences could spell a split in the coalition in the coming months.
On his three-day visit, Boucher met with the leaders of the two parties and reaffirmed the Bush administration's support for the new leadership, many of whom are political enemies of Musharraf. He also met with Musharraf.
Boucher said the United States supports the ongoing military operations against militants in the western tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, adding that residents there are fed up with harassment from militants.
Pakistan's paramilitary offensive, which also targets Al Qaeda and Taliban in the area, is the first anti-militant operation by the newly elected government.
Boucher said the United States supports recent efforts by the Pakistani government to work with tribal leaders on some kind of peace settlement but would not endorse making concessions to militant leaders such as Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.
"We don't support releasing terrorists in the wild so that they can strike again," he said.
Boucher did not directly mention efforts to capture Usama bin Laden or recent reports of an agreement between the United States and Pakistan that CIA-operated Predator drones may strike the Al Qaeda leader's hideout without prior permission from Islamabad.
He only said that Pakistan's cooperation in the War on Terror is key to preventing Al Qaeda from striking against its enemies, saying: "We are not the only targets."