The new Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, tried to reassure the US that Parliament considers terrorism its top priority. In his first major speech, Gilani emphasized that the Pakistani government remained committed to fighting terrorism, especially foreign terrorists using Pakistan for their own purposes. However, Gilani said he would use political approaches as well as military, which has some people wondering whether Gilani will repeat Musharraf’s mistakes in Waziristan:

Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Saturday fighting terrorism would be his government’s top priority, but offered to negotiate with those who renounce violence and give up weapons.

In his first policy statement since securing unanimous backing of MPs in the 342-member lower house of parliament, Gilani termed terrorism the biggest threat to his nuclear-armed nation.

The assurance appeared aimed at calming US concerns about any weakening of Pakistan’s key role in the “war on terror” after the shift of power from its staunch ally President Pervez Musharraf to the newly elected powers led by slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s party. …

Security analysts say Gilani’s offer of talks to surrendering militants does not represent a new initiative as a similar approach followed by Musharraf in the tribal belt failed to contain the unrest.

Musharraf’s allies lost elections last month, and Gilani told US President George W. Bush earlier this week that a broader approach to the “war on terror” is necessary, including political solutions.

Given the nature of the threat and the public dissatisfaction with the confrontational approach favored by the Americans, the Gilani speech actually sounds like good news. It promises at least the same level of commitment that Musharraf has provided to challenging the terrorists. Had Nawaz Sharif become PM or perhaps any other party leader, we would have heard something much different.

Pakistan has tough choices ahead. The public will not support an all-out war against fellow Pakistanis, as the elections amply demonstrated. They want more attempts at reconciliation, and Gilani offers a modernization package for Waziristan and North West Frontier Province that is long overdue. He offers the same kind of amnesty that Musharraf has in the past, attempting to draw repentant radicals out of violent groups to marginalize the terrorists.

Will it work? It might with some of the native Pakistanis, but tribal alliances matter more than nationalism. Pashtuns will not likely leave their tribal alliances behind, and so Gilani has to find ways to convince Pashtun tribal leaders to shun the Taliban and the foreigners of al-Qaeda. Musharraf couldn’t find the formula for success in that effort, and Gilani probably won’t have much more success, at least not in the short run.

That means that the US has to keep the pressure on the terrorists from Afghanistan. We have taken care to aim only at the foreigners when possible, which creates much less political pressure on the Pakistani government. Unfortunately, without having our boots on the ground in those areas, it becomes more difficult to precisely distinguish between foreigners and Pakistanis. Gilani will have to engage better on his side of the border to make those distinctions for US forces if he wants to avoid Pakistani deaths.