Pakistan fighting for survival against Taliban: Zardari (Lead)

February 14th, 2009 - 5:35 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Feb 14 (IANS) Saying the Taliban held “huge amounts of land”, President Asif Ali Zardari has said the militia may have overrun Islamabad but for the army which he said was fighting for Pakistan’s survival.

“They (Taliban) do have a presence in huge amounts of land in our side. Yes, that is the fact,” a sombre Zardari told US TV channel CBS.

“Taliban want to overtake the state of Pakistan,” he said. “It is indispensable to halt rising influence of Taliban by using force as they desire to change our living style.

“So, we’re fighting for the survival of Pakistan. We’re not fighting for the survival of anybody else,” the president said in the interview, to be broadcast Sunday.

Noting that the military was backing the government in its war against terrorism along the restive border with Afghanistan, Zardari said that but for this the Taliban would have overrun Islamabad.

Zardari’s remarks came as US President Barack Obama spoke with him earlier this week about the efforts being made by the two countries to combat terrorism on Pakistan’s restive border with Afghanistan.

Obama’s phone call to Zardari Feb 11 came as US special envoy Richard Holbrooke ended a visit to Pakistan to explore ways in which Washington and Islamabad could improve coordination in the anti-Taliban offensive.

The US and NATO mission in Afghanistan have been frustrated by cross-border raids by Taliban militants who take refuge in Pakistan’s ungovernable tribal region.

Zardari’s slain wife Benazir Bhutto admitted in 2007 that it was her government’s mistake to “encourage and promote” the Taliban when she was prime minister.

She said Pakistan then thought the Taliban was a “peaceful and stabilising alternative” to the warring mujahideen factions in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Friday jointly presided over a meeting here to review the situation in the tribal areas and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and decided to continue the military operation against Taliban militants in the turbulent Swat valley to re-establish the government’s writ.

“The meeting expressed satisfaction over the way the fight against militancy was proceeding and vowed to continue the campaign till the eradication of militancy and complete restoration of the writ of the government,” Dawn reported Saturday.

Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI Director General Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani provincial Chief Minister Haider Khan Hoti and Asfandyar Wali Khan, who heads the province’s ruling Awami National Party, were among those who attended the meeting.

The meeting was informed that the government would install jammers in Swat to block FM radio transmissions being used by militants for anti-government propaganda and for sermons inciting the people to attack the security forces.

“The meeting was of the view that the government had no other option but to root out terrorism and militancy from the region,” Dawn said.

“The absence of options makes the choice abundantly clear,” Zardari said.

Lauding the role of the armed forces in the region, Zardari said: “Many of them have laid down their lives and many others have been injured in the line of duty. They are our heroes.”

Dawn added: “The meeting also praised the courage of local people for standing up to the militants and refusing to abandon their homes and land.”

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