Washington: The success of American strategy in Afghanistan depends heavily on Pakistan`s willingness to confront terrorism on its soil and prevent safe havens for militants across the porous border, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said.
Putting the onus on Pakistan, Panetta said success its anti terror efforts can be ensured only if Pakistan takes on militant safe havens on its oil to prevent terrorists from crossing over the Afghanistan.
"In many ways the success in Afghanistan is dependent on having a Pakistan that is willing to confront terrorism on their side of the border and prevent safe havens," Panetta said while speaking at the Center for a New American Security.
Terming Pakistan as the key to US success in Afghanistan, Panetta said this was the single most important factor after the development of capabilities of the Afghan forces.
"The ability of terrorist groups to move across that border and to attack in Afghanistan and, obviously, the challenge that that represents," he said referring to militant hideouts on the Pakistani side.
"You know, obviously, we can take them as they cross the border. We`ve been going after them operationally when they do that. But the problem is that when they move back and escape into a safe haven, it makes it very difficult to complete the job," Panetta said acknowledging that cross-border terrorism continues unabated from Pakistan.
He said in order to really have a secure Afghanistan, ultimately Pakistan has to take "responsibility" for taking on terrorists and eliminating the safe havens.
In his opening remarks, Panetta said despite challenges in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Pakistan, one area in which the national interests continue to align is defeating the terrorists on Pakistan soil that threaten both.
"We remain committed to pursuing defense cooperation based on these shared interests," he said, adding that the US will continue to engage Pakistan.
Panetta said right now the ability to develop a security force in Afghanistan that is able to provide security, that can establish operational capability to confront threats on the Afghan side of the border is extremely important to the future.
"We are building this 352,000 ANSF force. That is extremely important to our ability to make the transition and to have an Afghanistan that can, in fact, provide security. That is going to be an important key," he said.
"But to able to succeed in Afghanistan is also going to require -- I mean the threats I see that we`ve got to worry about in the future are the following: Number one, we have to have an Afghanistan that can govern itself, that can move away from corruption, that can, in fact, have the capability to provide the kind of governance that you need in order to be able to truly secure that country and govern that country for the future.
"That`s an area that I think demands a lot more attention for the future," Panetta said.