Military action, not talks, to deal with militancy in Pakistan - US

A senior US diplomat said on Monday that only harsh military means would solve the problem of rising Islamist militancy in Pakistan, as security forces killed at least 20 people in the north-west part of the country, reports dpa.

"We are glad to see serious military action against people whose only goal seems to be to blow up the Pakistan state and society," US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told reporters in Islamabad while lauding the ongoing offensives by the Pakistani army against Taliban fighters in the ungoverned tribal belt and parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The statement came after he concluded his meetings with several government and opposition leaders of the country, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilanai, Chief Minister of the NWFP Amir Haider Khan Hoti and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.

Boucher said Pakistan was not holding any "practical negotiations" with Taliban fighters, who use the tribal region to launch cross- border attacks on US-led international forces inside Afghanistan.

The new civilian government, led by slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistani Peoples Party, offered peace talks to Islamist militants in March 2008 soon after it took over.

But it retracted that offer partly due to pressure from the United States and partly because the effort did not stop suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks that have killed more than 4,000 people across the country over the last year and a half.

Boucher said militants were only "interested in using the peace talks' process as more space to rebuild their capabilities."

Currently, Pakistan is carrying out major offensives in the Bajaur tribal district and the restive valley of Swat, two strongholds of Islamic extremists.

Hundreds of militants and dozens of soldiers have died in the firefights, while more than 400,000 civilians have been forced to flee the areas.

At least 12 militants were killed when Pakistani jet planes, helicopter gunships and artillery fire pounded insurgents' position in Chaharmang and Loi Sam areas of Bajaur on Monday, said a security official.

Separately, eight civilians, including two women, died and 18 were injured when stray rounds fired by security forces at militants' hideouts hit some houses in the Shahdheri area of the Kabal sub district in Swat valley, Urdu-language Geo news channel reported.

US troops deployed in Afghanistan have also stepped up airstrikes, targeting suspected militants hideouts in tribal regions, resulting in civilian casualties and causing resentment among the Pakistani public, which is already predominantly anti-American.

The regular suicide attacks and intensified US strikes have also created uncertainty in an environment where foreign investors are fleeing the country, causing the country's main stock market to almost freeze up.

Pakistan's currency, the rupee, has lost around 27 percent of its value against the US dollar since the start of this year. Foreign reserves are rapidly eroding, leaving the country at the brink of default on external payments as it looks to friends for around four billion dollars in cash for survival.

But Boucher said: "There is no money on the table. The goal is to put the money where it belongs. It is not a cash advance."

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