Pak Continuing Ties with Militants as Hedge: Gates

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said that Pakistan has maintained relationship with extremist groups as a hedge despite taking strong military action against militants in recent month.

“The Pakistanis’ relationship with these groups dates back to when I was dealing with them more than 20 years ago when we were taking on the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. These relationships between the Pakistanis and these groups were established then as the vehicle for taking on the Soviets,” Gates said.

“They have maintained some of those contacts and those relationships, frankly, as a hedge because of their uncertainty whether the US would be a reliable partner and ally for them going forward and whether we would remain in Afghanistan until we were assured of success in taking care of the extremists,” he said at a hearing on Afghanistan convened by the House Committee on International Affairs.

Replying to a question from Congressman Howard Berman, Chairman of the Committee, Gates said: “I think as we make progress and as they make progress, their incentive to change this approach, to opt strategically to partner with the United States, becomes significantly more powerful.”

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, said, “I just remain extremely concerned about the collaborative aspect of what’s happened with all these separate terrorist groups over the last couple of years who have joined hands in ways that we just haven’t seen before.”

In response to a query about reports of Pakistan’s intelligence service continually having ties with the insurgent groups that seek to destabilize Afghanistan, Gates said that one of the significant political developments in Pakistan over the last few months has been a strong shift in public opinion in support of the actions that the army is taking, first in Swat and now in South Waziristan.

“There has developed over the last year a nexus between al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. And they are mutually reinforcing, both in their narrative and in their operations,” he said.

“What we have seen is the Pakistani army going after the Taliban and other extremists in western Pakistan. There is no question but what it has put pressure on some of the insurgent groups that are acting against the US. A number of these people have fled from South Waziristan into North Waziristan. Some may be going into Afghanistan. So there clearly is a value to what the Pakistanis are doing,” he said.

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