Gates warns of dangers in Pakistan militant havens
Islamabad: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned on Thursday that Taliban safe havens along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border must be tackled or both nations would suffer "more lethal and more brazen" attacks.
Writing in Pakistan`s The News at the start of a two-day visit to Islamabad, Gates stressed Washington`s commitment to Pakistan and praised military offensives launched against the Pakistani Taliban in recent months.
But US officials have made clear that Washington is anxious to see Islamabad also target the Afghan Taliban within its borders and al Qaeda-linked militants using the northwest tribal region to plot and launch attacks into Afghanistan.
"It is important to remember that the Pakistani Taliban operates in collusion with both the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda, so it is impossible to separate those groups," Gates wrote.
"If history is any indication, safe havens for either Taliban, on either side of the border, will in the long run lead to more lethal and more brazen attacks in both nations," he added in the editorial.
Gates wrote that making distinctions between the different extremist groups was "counterproductive".
"Only by pressuring all of these groups on both sides of the border will Afghanistan and Pakistan be able to rid themselves of this scourge for good -- to destroy those who promote the use of terror here and abroad."
The Pentagon chief`s visit comes at a time of diplomatic tension as a volley of US drone missile strikes hit militants in the northwest, fuelling anti-American sentiment and drawing public condemnation from the government.
Officials in his delegation said Gates hoped to reassure a wary Pakistan public and leadership that the United States was not going "turn its back" on them as in the past.
Gates has lamented that Washington lost interest in the region after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and lost the trust of Pakistani armed forces after a US ban on military aid over Islamabad`s nuclear programme in the 1990s.
Gates will convey the message that "we are not going to turn our back on the Pakistanis again, we are committed to a long-term relationship between our two countries," his press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters earlier.
In a bid to shore up the US image in Pakistan, the Americans have organised an event with a military audience on Friday, where the Pentagon chief will give a speech and take questions from the audience.
"I think you will see him candidly acknowledge mistakes and offer his personal pledge that we are not going to make those mistakes again," Morrell said.
Morrell said Gates, a former CIA director who was deeply involved in the US effort to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan during the Cold War, was well-placed to carry the message to the Pakistanis.
Pakistanis "know him and hopefully trust him and believe him to be credible on military and defence matters," he said.
Gates was due to meet Pakistan`s Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, intelligence chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha and to hold talks later on Thursday with President Asif Ali Zardari.
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