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Pak determined to eliminate Taliban's sanctuaries

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has asked the US to help Islamabad fight the Taliban, saying his government is "very determined to eliminate sanctuaries of the extremists on its soil".

world Updated: Mar 23, 2009 10:51 IST

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has asked the US to help Islamabad fight the Taliban, saying his government is "very determined to eliminate sanctuaries of the extremists on its soil".

Opposing the drone attacks by the US to take out Taliban and al-Qaida leadership particularly in the areas bordering Afghanistan, Qureshi said the militants build on their goodwill on collateral damage that is there in front of them.

"They build for themselves support and sympathy through that. And we want to deprive them of that support," he told the ABC News in an interview, saying that in Pakistan's view, the problem primarily lies in Afghanistan.

"I'm not saying it's not all hunky dory over here. No I do realise the challenges that we have. But we are very clear in our direction. And we are very determined to eliminate sanctuaries on our side," he added.

For quick action and deployment, and then pulling out, he said, Pakistan needs helicopters. For consolidating the gains that the military has made and to hold them, it needs night vision. To give additional support to the troops, it needs a well trained and well equipped law enforcement agency, which is the police and paramilitary.

The Bush administration's strategy has not worked and needs revision, he told the interviewer, stressing, "We need a new strategy."

However, the new American administration now seems to be more focused in the direction he has advocated, he added.

Replying to a question, Qureshi conceded that the United States should be concerned about safe havens for militants but said Pakistan need to devise a strategy that is workable.

"We have to go piecemeal. We have to see our resources and we have to develop our strategy according to our resources," he added.

Claiming that change is taking place, Qureshi told the interviewer that when the American troops went into Iraq, they took three to four years to adjust to the new situation despite the sophisticated equipment and technology available to them.

"We are adjusting to a new situation. Let's not forget that our army, that our troops are trained for a different theatre of war. And this insurgency and this sort of fight that is taking place up in the north is somewhat different. They have adapted and they have adapted very quickly," he added.

"With better training, which has started with US help -- and I am appreciative of that -- and hopefully with capacity enhancement we will become increasingly effective in the days to come," Qureshi said.

Asked why the Army chief is resisting attempts by the US to directly train army officers, the foreign minister said the Americans are training the trainers. "Once we have our trainers trained, we can do the training.

"We don't have to start from scratch. We have institutions, functional institutions in Pakistan. All we have to do is strengthen them further, and that's exactly what's taking place," he added.

Advocating economic development of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), he said these were one of the most neglected areas of Pakistan.

"If you look at the levels of poverty in FATA, if you look at the level of illiteracy in FATA, obviously the social indicators are not talking very highly of our effort in the past. So there is a realization from within and there's a realization without that a greater focus of economic assistance, developing civilian infrastructures, catering to the needs of the people is important," he added.

"If we have to win this fight, we have to change the mindset. If we do not provide boys and girls of FATA with quality education through a proper public education system, obviously they'll go to the madrassas," he added.

For economic stability, investments have to be made there, he added.

Asked why provincial government is signing peace deal with the militants when they have been identified as those who cannot be reconcile, Qureshi said Swat was a princely State until 1969 and it had its own judicial system which was local juries and quick dispensation of justice.

There was a growing public demand for the revival of that system. The militants tried to get onto this bandwagon and gain popularity and increase their outreach vis-à-vis the people by being supportive of this movement. What we have done is recognize the need and addressed this local problem through a local solution and have created a bridge between the hard-core militants and the ordinary Swatis who want to live in peace and want a normal life," he added.

But he said there is a "huge difference" between the Sharia or Islamic law, that Swatis associate with quick judicial action and the Sharia of former militant Sufi Muhammad, who is negotiating the deal.

"His Sharia bans education for older girls, tries to limit access to certain medicine; who is against music and television," he added.

"I think when peace returns to Swat, when the government is able to reestablish its writ in Swat, in my view, the overwhelming number of people will subscribe to our point of view," he added.

Replying to another question, Qureshi said the present leadership of the military is very "supportive of the democratic dispensation".

"I think what we have in place is a thinking general who understands the challenges Pakistan faces, who understands the economic challenges we face, who understands the challenges of governance that we face, who understands how civilian institutions over the years under a dictatorship had weakened and why we need to strengthen them again," he said.

Qureshi denied that the spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (IST) supports militants now.

"I cannot speak for people in the past because I was not interacting with them. But I can speak with confidence of the present leadership of the ISI. I have worked closely and am working closely with (ISI chief) Gen Pasha. I think he is very clear where the interests of Pakistan lie. And I can tell you he's not soft on extremists or militants," he added.

First Published: Mar 23, 2009 10:47 IST