SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said a greater effort from Pakistan to control the Taliban in its border region is as important to winning the battle in Afghanistan as a proper military and civilian strategy. Mr Rudd discussed the role Pakistan could play in curtailing the Taliban when he met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in southern China.
Coalition forces, made up of NATO and non-NATO members who met in the Romanian capital of Bucharest earlier this month, have developed a more comprehensive civilian and military strategy to deal with the problem in Afghanistan. Mr Rudd said he believes getting Pakistan to do more to arrest the spread of Taliban forces in remote areas of the country is equally important.
“For me, this is as important as is the domestic military and civilian strategy we pursue in Afghanistan itself, particularly given we have more than 1,000 Australian troops whose lives are on the line,” he told reporters. “Half of the challenge lies in what’s happening domestically within Afghanistan itself and the other half lies in whether, in fact, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are obtaining any form of safe haven across the border and what is being done about that.”
Australia and Pakistan have agreed to continue discussing the issue through diplomatic channels.
“We want to sustain a high-level dialogue with President Musharraf and we propose to do that through our representatives in Islamabad,” Mr Rudd said. General Musharraf extended an invitation to Mr Rudd to visit Pakistan but the Australian leader won’t be able to take up the offer this year.”I don’t think it’s possible, at least not according to current timetabling,” Mr Rudd said.
However, he would ensure senior ministers visited Pakistan to keep up the engagement. “I regard this as very important. We have more than 1,000 troops on the ground, it’s a very difficult security environment,” Mr Rudd said. Mr Rudd also met Pakistan’s new defence and foreign ministers, who are from the new government led by the party of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Opposition parties swept recent parliamentary elections and have formed a coalition government, severely undermining General Musharraf’s power.
“I was keen … to establish contact with those ministers because they represent a party which has not been in government for a long, long time,” Mr Rudd said. “Because it is a newly formed government, we intend to intensify our diplomatic and political engagement with Afghanistan.’SANA