The US has hailed Pakistan's recent success in the anti-terror campaign achieved due to Islamabad's unprecedented political consensus in the fight against the militants and effectiveness of the operations the Pakistani forces had launched in Swat in recent months. The death of Baithullah Mehsud was described as a victory by White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton on August 10 which was initially subject to conflicting reports. "We are pretty sure (of the death of Baitullah Mehsud) and obviously that is a victory for safety and security in the region." Terming Mehsud who had been blamed for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, "a murderous thug" he said his elimination was a step forward for the safety of folks in that region and in his country. Burton termed the development as evidence of Pakistan having made progress in moving to root out and eliminate extremist elements in their country. "We are going to continue to partner with them to keep doing just that." Another emotive statement came from Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Centre at the Heritage Foundation who hailed Mehsud's death in the same week, citing it as a pretext for broadening bilateral cooperation to improve the lot of the tribal areas. "The elimination of Mehsud would constitute a significant victory for Pakistan's fight against terrorism, especially coming so closely on the heels of the Pakistani military's ousting of pro-Taliban forces from the Swat Valley in the settled areas of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)." Curtis, who frequently testifies before the Congressional committees on issues related to South Asia, noted that in addition to continuing military cooperation, US and Pakistan must work together to implement economic development programmes and political reforms, particularly in tribal areas, that were critical to long-term success in the struggle against terrorism. More recently on September 6 while speaking to Al Jazeera TV, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Washington would build a long-term relationship with Islamabad which would be independent of the US Afghan policy. "It (Pakistan) is important intrinsically to the US. We have been Pakistan's friend and an ally for a long time. We've had a very close relationship and we look forward to building that relationship, going forward completely independent of Afghanistan." He added: "I believe the Pakistani government, both the civilian side and the military side, had performed better than almost anyone's expectations in the region, or in this country, or elsewhere, and we are very impressed by that and we are prepared to be helpful, to help the Pakistanis in any way we can". According to the transcript released by the TV channel he said "I think if you look back, 15 or 16 months, the Pakistani government has performed admirably". "No one would have predicted the political consensus that had emerged in Pakistan in terms of the effort to take on these extremists in the NWFP and FATA." He also praised Islamabad's response to the humanitarian crisis it faced in the form of massive internal displacement from the conflict zone. Pakistan, he said to a question, was a "very important" country. "I think one of the new aspects of the (US) president's strategy with respect to Afghanistan is the recognition that the problem we face there, we and the Afghans, is a regional problem. And as we've seen in recent months, it is a problem that the Pakistani government faces and so I think Pakistan clearly is important." "Pakistan is important in its own right to the US, as a friend and an ally," Gates said. In August, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin had questioned the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, saying it had lost focus and needed a flexible timeline for withdrawing troops from the country. Additionally, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he was "concerned that this war not last a whole lot longer." Apparently in response to such queries Gates declared at a Pentagon Press Conference on 6 September that the US was sending an additional 21,000 troops to boost the anti-Taliban war in Afghanistan. His remarks on the US regarding Pakistan individually in the larger strategy for the region could be seen as a stark constrast to the Af-Pak policy spelled out in a white paper in March 2008 that was widely criticised Pakistan. It appears that with forceful action against terrorists, Pakistan can win back some of the US public opinion in its favour. But it is too early at this stage to build on these positive statements as signals of a significant shift in US policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan. What they signify is an encouragement from the US leadership of Pakistan's strong-handed approach towards fighting Taliban/terrorists. There was a time not too long ago, it may be recalled, before the advent of the present government, that the US had complained that Pakistan was not doing enough to curtail the spread of terrorism in the region. A US GAO (Government Accountability Office) report in 2008 had claimed that the next terrorist attack on US territory could be launched from Pakistan and that the tribal areas had several terrorist safe havens. The US also often echos India's warnings to Pakistan to prevent providing safe havens to terrorists. So the recent positive tenor in US statements is a welcome development. But the positive theme needs to be sustained with continued political consensus in Islamabad in the fight against terrorism in the region and in implementing successful strategies against terrorists. Pakistan has followed a two-pronged strategy towards curtailing the rise of Taliban militancy and the subsequent wave of terror attacks inside Islamabad. On May 7 the Prime Minister, in a televised address to the nation, declared that a military operation was being launched in Swat which would conclude with the end of Taliban militancy in the region. Meanwhile security in Islamabad was tightened with several check posts established at different points inside the city especially in the red zone where important buildings including the diplomatic enclave lie. A terrorist attack in June this year by a suicide bomber on the Rescue 15 centre in G-8 Islamabad rocked the entire city with fears of further attacks. But the tight security measures helped quieten the situation quite a bit. The government also bore the brunt of its military operation in Malakand region starting in April 2009 with a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees announced that between 150,0000 to 200,0000 civilians had fled the war zone. The so-called IDPs were provided shelters as well as aid by the government and eventually as the military operation died down so also began the gradual repatriation of the IDPs. The government's success in controlling a multifaceted crisis is now therefore being praised by the US, which at the beginning of the operation had gone so far as to doubt the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal fearing that it would fall into the wrong hands. The writer is a freelance columnist