Pakistan’s Zardari wants trade for restive regions

A015920012.jpgBEIJING (Reuters) – Islamabad wants to talk to the next U.S. administration about boosting investment in border regions hit by Islamist militant violence, Chinese state media quoted Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari as saying.

Pakistan’s relations with the United States are strained after U.S. forces in Afghanistan carried out cross-border strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.

Washington wants Pakistan to stop the free flow of militants from its near-lawless border states into Afghanistan to join the Taliban insurgency but Islamabad is wary of provoking a backlash.

The official China Daily newspaper quoted Zardari as saying Islamabad would encourage investment in the troubled regions and try to win more preferential treatment for their products in U.S. markets. Zardari ended a four-day visit to China on Friday.

“We are looking for a dialogue when the new U.S. administration comes into being. And we are going to work firmly for the signing of a FTA (Free Trade Agreement) for these regions,” Zardari said.

But Zardari said that Islamist militancy in Pakistan was it’s “own problem,” the paper said.

“It is basically our own war. It has been wrongly described as America’s war,” Zardari said.

Pakistan rules out foreign military strikes on its territory, saying they not only violate its sovereignty but are counter-productive, increasing support for militants in a country where many people oppose backing the United States.

Top U.S. officials have vowed to respect Pakistani sovereignty but have declined to rule out more air strikes.

The U.S. presidential election takes place on November 4 and Afghanistan is one of the major foreign policy issues.

U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama said he would authorize strikes on militants in Pakistan if Islamabad proved “unable or unwilling” to act.

His Republican opponent John McCain has called for a quiet policy and says support from the Pakistani people is necessary.

Zardari also said eradicating poppy production was the key to fighting terrorism in the region, and that poppy growers in Pakistan should be persuaded to grow corn to take advantage of rising prices linked to the growing ethanol industry.

“(Poppy production) is one of the major problems because it finances terrorism,” Zardari said.

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