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Gates lauds Pakistan for border crackdown

February 13, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

MANAMA, BAHRAIN — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates thanked Pakistan on Monday for what he said were stepped-up efforts to crack down on the flow of fighters from its border regions into Afghanistan.

Gates expressed his appreciation in an hourlong meeting with President Pervez Musharraf during a stop in Islamabad, the capital, telling reporters that he felt the Pakistani government was taking the issue seriously.

"It's incurring significant costs in lives and, I might add, in treasure in fighting this battle on the border," Gates said during a short news conference before departing after less than five hours on the ground.

The Pakistani government came under intense criticism from U.S. and European officials after signing a peace deal last year with Taliban-linked tribal leaders in the Waziristan border regions. Western allies believe the deal has enabled insurgents to regenerate and launch an increasing number of attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

American commanders in Afghanistan have reported a surge in attacks since the agreement was signed, and similar claims by Afghan President Hamid Karzai have led to a war of words between the neighboring leaders, with each accusing the other of failing to crack down on the extremist groups.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri repeated those accusations Saturday at an international security conference in Munich, saying that shortcomings in Afghanistan's national reconciliation process and long delays in building the Kabul government's infrastructure were largely responsible for allowing the Taliban to flourish.

"The government and people of Pakistan are hurt at insensitive criticism toward Pakistan," Kasuri said. "To blame Pakistan for Afghanistan's problems would be counterproductive and indeed dangerous because it will take away from the real challenges facing Afghanistan, which lie within that country."

Gates did not repeat such criticisms of Pakistan on Monday and instead said he had thanked Musharraf for his country's efforts to enforce the Waziristan agreement, in which tribal leaders promised not to harbor Taliban fighters in return for a withdrawal of Pakistani troops.

"If we weren't concerned about what was happening along the border, I wouldn't be here," Gates said. "I think the president [Musharraf] himself has acknowledged there were problems initially with the enforcement of the agreement, but it is improving."

The meeting with Musharraf was the last in a five-day, three-country trip for Gates where, at every opportunity, he pressed American allies to increase their efforts in Afghanistan ahead of an expected Taliban offensive this spring. In two European stops last week, he called on members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to contribute more forces to the alliance's mission in Afghanistan, which stands at about 32,000 troops.

On Monday, Gates noted that his last trip to Pakistan was 20 years ago as a CIA official working with Pakistani intelligence to arm Afghanistan's anti-Soviet mujahedin. He said the U.S. was wrong to abandon Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew.

"We neglected Afghanistan and extremism took control of that country," Gates said. "The United States paid the price for that on Sept. 11, 2001. We won't make that mistake again. We are here for the long haul."

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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