U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton say Pakistan realizes the threat posed by the Taliban and has begun to respond. The U.S. officials appeared Thursday before a congressional panel that will begin considering the Obama administration's request for more funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The comments by Secretaries Gates and Clinton to the Senate Appropriations Committee came as Pakistani troops fought militants for a third day in Buner district and security forces sought to push Islamic extremists from their foothold some 100 kilometers from Islamabad.
Secretary Clinton welcomed the action. "It was heartening to see the military sent in to Buner province to begin to push the Taliban advance back," she said.
Secretary Gates said the Taliban's advance into Buner could spark a broader political response against the militants. "I think the Taliban moving into Buner set off an alarm bell that may, in fact, begin to create a broader political consensus in Pakistan that would include not just President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, but perhaps the sharifs and others as well, including the army," he said.
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama said Pakistan's army has begun to realize that the threat posed by militants is greater to the nation's stability than any threat posed by India, despite three wars between the two neighboring rivals. The comment was a reference to the fact that Pakistan stations a significant portion of its military along the border with India.
Secretary Clinton said the United States is confident that Pakistan is taking effective action to protect its nuclear weapons. "The Pakistani military is very focused on the protection of their arsenal and we have certainly kept our eyes very closely on that," she said.
Clinton and Gates appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee to urge lawmakers to approve the $83.4 billion request for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for aid to Pakistan.
The package includes $1.4 billion in economic aid to Pakistan and $400 million to train and equip the Pakistani military in counterinsurgency tactics.