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Pakistan's PM Defends Government's Anti-Terrorism Efforts


Pakistan's prime minister says a recent surge in fighting in the country's tribal regions bordering Afghanistan is the result of the government's more aggressive stance against terrorists. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports from Washington.

Appearing on CNN's Late Edition Sunday program, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the government has played an important role in fighting terrorism.

Mr. Aziz dismissed claims that last week's deadly clashes between Pakistani troops and pro-Taleban militants in the tribal region of North Waziristan show the government is failing in its efforts.

"We have not taken our eye off the ball," said Shaukat Aziz. "In fact, the intensity of engagement by the opposing parties has increased, because we are taking them on. We are not looking the other way. And why are we doing this? We are doing this because we think terrorism is no solution to any problem, and we believe that these elements have to be engaged and taken care of."

Last week, Pakistani authorities said 250 people had been killed in the area during four days of fighting. The renewed violence sparked accusations of the government's ineffectiveness in fighting the Taleban and al-Qaida along the border with Afghanistan.

A White House Homeland Security report released earlier this month said al-Qaida had "regenerated a safe haven" in Pakistan's tribal areas, which could help facilitate another attack on the United States.

But Mr. Aziz said Pakistan has not weakened its stance.

"Pakistan will never allow any people from outside Pakistan to take safe haven here and then have our territory used to endanger the security of any other country," he said. "And, we will not tolerate this and we will not allow anyone to do so. That is why we are engaging with elements who do cross over."

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror. The country has deployed about 90,000 troops to the border regions.

But Mr. Aziz said the fight cannot be won by Pakistan alone. He said the presence of coalition forces in Afghanistan drives terrorists into Pakistan's tribal regions, and the faster Afghanistan can handle its own security, the safer those areas will be.

"We are also encouraging the other side, which means the Afghan side, to build more posts and have more troops on their side of the border, because what we see is a very heavy concentration of troops on our side, but then, once - when they cross over, they are relatively less - they are not intercepted as frequently as they should be," said Aziz.

Violence has escalated in North Waziristan since the collapse in July of a peace deal between the government and pro-Taleban militants. The deal was designed to drive out foreign fighters from the tribal region.

Taleban and al-Qaida militants have taken refuge in Pakistan's tribal regions since U.S.-led forces ended Taleban rule in Afghanistan in 2001.

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