ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Britain’s foreign secretary has backed the Pakistan president’s efforts to tackle Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants on a visit to the country that comes at a pivotal time in Pakistani politics.
“Britain has a strong interest in the stability of Pakistan, in defeating extremism and in the development of tribal areas,” Foreign Secretary David Miliband said after talks on Thursday with President Pervez Musharraf.
Miliband, on his first major trip abroad since assuming his post last month, said he would look at how an increase in British development aid to tribal regions could be used “in the most effective way.”
“Counter-terrorism is about military force but we also need economic and social development,” he added.
Miliband’s visit, which follows a two-day trip to Afghanistan, comes as General Musharraf battles to assert his authority following a row over his chief justice and his army’s assault on a mosque complex in Islamabad run by radical Islamists.
The crackdown on radicals in the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque compound on July 10 has led to a backlash against Musharraf by militants and undermined his authority.
Followers of radical clerics running a Taliban-style movement from the complex refused to surrender, leading to an assault by army commandos in which scores of people were killed.
Pakistan’s military has since increased activity and there have been growing numbers of clashes in al Qaeda and Taliban hotbeds in the North Waziristan region — an area U.S. officials say is an al Qaeda safe haven that is largely inaccessible.
Musharraf is a key U.S. and British ally in their fight against terrorism.
Intelligence sharing on counter-terrorism is vital with Britain facing an increased threat. Over half of the counter-terrorism operations of Britain’s security services are linked to Pakistan, officials said.
Miliband chose Afghanistan and Pakistan for his first trip outside Europe since Prime Minister Gordon Brown named him to the post to highlight the priorities of London’s new government.
Battling terrorism and radicalization top its foreign policy agenda, with Britain on alert over potential attacks and in need of Pakistan’s continued help on information sharing.
Britain wants to see what officials call the “moderate” path taken by Musharraf on policies ranging from counter-terrorism to rekindled relations with India to more rights for women.
But they would like Musharraf to remove his uniform and run a more civilian administration.