Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was equally careful when asked to comment on an agreement between Pakistani authorities and the Swat militants that allows for the implementation of sharia in the valley.
She told reporters in Tokyo that the United States was studying the agreement and was trying to understand the Pakistani government’s ‘intention and the actual agreed-upon language.’
But the secretary warned that ‘activity by the extremist elements in Pakistan poses a direct threat to the government of Pakistan as well as to the security of the United States, Afghanistan and a number of other nations not only in the immediate region.’
Pakistani authorities say the accord, which aims to end 20 months of fighting in the Swat Valley, is in the country’s best interests and doesn’t represent a victory for Taliban insurgents.
At the State Department, deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid echoed what Pakistani officials had said while defending the Swat agreement.
‘The Islamic law is within the constitutional framework of Pakistan,’ he said. ‘So I don't know that is particularly an issue for anyone outside of Pakistan to discuss, certainly not from this podium.’
When a reporter described the agreement as a peace treaty between the Taliban and the government of Pakistan, Mr Duguid said: ‘I'm not sure about your characterisation of what has gone on in Pakistan. I refer you to the government of Pakistan for a better readout of that.’
He said the United States was discussing the issue with the government in Pakistan and will wait for their fuller explanation before commenting on the agreement.
‘Is it a good development or a bad development?’ another reporter asked. ‘We've seen these sorts of actions before. What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in, in attacking Afghanistan.’
Yet another reporter reminded the US spokesman that the Nato had warned that the agreement could lead to a safe haven for extremists in the region. Mr Duguid said since he had not seen ‘the full context’ of the Nato statement, he would not offer further comments.
The United States, he said, had stayed engaged with the government of Pakistan on this and other issues that concern the US-led coalition in Afghanistan but it will wait to see what the Pakistan ‘government's aims are and then, if I have more to offer on that, I'll get back to you.’
Mr Duguid said that the US Embassy in Islamabad was trying to find out what’s the strategy of the Pakistani government for dealing with the militants operating in Swat.
When a reporter suggested that the spokesman should get his brief and later tell journalists if he believed the agreement was good or bad, Mr Duguid said: ‘I don't think that I'm going to give a judgment out from the podium when they've just announced this. They've just started their actions.’
Diplomatic observers in Washington say that the State Department’s cautious reaction shows that the US is still trying to understand the development.
They say that instead of using a public platform for condemning the agreement, the US administration is using diplomatic channels to ensure that whatever agreement Pakistan makes with the militant, it does not hurt the US-led war against the Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
Unlike the State Department, the US media and think-tanks have reacted strongly to the agreement, describing it as a mistake that may have dangerous consequences for Pakistan.
‘It looks like total capitulation to the TNSM, takes back right back to the first agreement in Swat which fell through,’ said Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department adviser on Pakistan and now a think-tank expert.
He warned that the Swat treaty may set precedence for other similar agreement in the Frontier area.
Mr Weinbaum, however, said he believed it was the military’s initiative and he understood why. ‘They are the ones suffering casualties in Swat,’ he added.
He recalled that the previous agreement with the TNSM fell through because the two sides could not agree on the presence of Pakistani troops in Swat.
‘I don’t know what the arrangement for the troops is in this agreement,’ said Mr Weinbaum, adding that it too could run into troubles over this issue.