Mumbai terror attacks give Pakistan food for thought: Gates

December 20th, 2008 - 10:57 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 20 (IANS) The US thinks Pakistan-based militants’ implication in the Mumbai terrorist attacks is giving Islamabad some food for thought as it considers how it should deal with terrorists operating on its soil.”I think they’re beginning to understand that the extremists in ungoverned spaces in their west have become an existential threat to Pakistan,” US Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview aired Wednesday.

“And, I think that’s one of the reasons the army is back in the fight, and one of the reasons why I hope that we will be able to work closer together in the future,” he told the Public Broadcasting Service, according to the US defence department.

Renewed Pakistani military action targeting Al Qaida and Taliban terrorists lodged in the western part of their country benefits Pakistan and assists in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan, he said.

Looking ahead, the US “will clearly be looking for ways to have a stronger partnership with Pakistan. To see if we can help them with some of their economic problems, and at the same time, encourage them to take (more) action in these ungoverned spaces in western Pakistan where the Taliban and Al Qaida and some of these other violent extremists have found sanctuary”, Gates said.

A US government review of the strategy and tactics employed in Afghanistan recognises “the importance that Pakistan plays in success or failure in Afghanistan and the need for us to work closely with Pakistan and to view Afghanistan more in a regional context than in isolation”, Gates told PBS interviewer Charlie Rose.

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf ultimately failed to dissuade citizens living in ungoverned areas of western Pakistan from allowing Al Qaida and Taliban militants to cross the border into Afghanistan to launch attacks on US, coalition and Afghan security forces. Musharraf resigned Aug 18.

Meanwhile, the Taliban stepped up their operations in Afghanistan. A new government replaced the one headed by Musharraf, but Pakistani military efforts against militants operating in their country remained uneven, until recently.

The Pakistanis “withdrew from the fight earlier this year, which frankly, gave the Taliban an opportunity to surge into Afghanistan”, Gates said.

But, “now the Pakistanis are back in the fight”, Gates said. This development, he said, is causing Taliban and Al Qaida members operating in the border region “to watch their backs”.

Pakistani forces also are working hard, Gates said, to safeguard the truck convoys that carry military supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Most people don’t know that the Pakistanis “have lost several thousand men; soldiers killed in this struggle in the western part of Pakistan. They have been in the fight”, he said.

But through it all, Pakistan remains a valued friend and ally of the US, Gates said. “They have captured and killed more Al Qaida than anybody in the world, except maybe us.”

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