By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 19, 2008 - 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, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a Public Broadcasting Service interview that aired Dec. 17. A U.S. government review of the strategy and tactics employed in Afghanistan recognizes "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.
The former Pakistani president, Gen. 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 U.S., 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, gives 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," Gates said. "They have been in the fight."
Militants in Pakistan have been implicated in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. This revelation, Gates said, is likely giving the Pakistani government some food for thought as it considers how it should deal with terrorists operating on their soil.
"I think they're beginning to understand that the extremists in ungoverned spaces in their west have become an existential threat to Pakistan," Gates said, "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."
Through it all, Pakistan remains a valued friend and ally of the United States, Gates pointed out.
"They have captured and killed more al-Qaida than anybody in the world, except maybe us," Gates said of Pakistan's contributions in support of the war against global terrorism.
Looking ahead, the United States "will clearly be looking for ways to have a stronger partnership with Pakistan," Gates said, "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."