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Pakistan’s ungoverned spaces pose threat to South Asia: US

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Ungoverned spaces of Pakistan together with the difficult-to-defend Afghan border have compounded the problem of fighting terrorism in South Asia, according to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“If you look at South Asia, yes, there is a problem – a kind of coming together of the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan with the difficult-to-defend Afghan border,” she said according to a transcript of an interview released by the State Department Monday.

“But I do not think that it would be right to say that they are unchallenged there or they’re somehow on the march,” Rice added in the interview with AFP, refuting suggestions that Taliban and other militants seemed to have the initiative going by the terror attacks in India and from across Pakistan’s porous border with Afghanistan.

Admitting “they’re (terrorists) able to do hit-and-run attacks across that (Pakistan-Afghanistan) border,” she said, “the capacity of the Afghan Government has to be strengthened, and the Pakistanis need to continue to press in those ungoverned spaces.”

Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas (FATA) on its border with Afghanistan are viewed by the US as safe havens for terrorists as they do not accept Islamabad’s authority.

In a separate interview with the Financial Times last week, Rice reiterated that Pakistan has got to do “everything that it can” to help bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice and find out “as much as they possibly can” to prevent a follow-on attack of some kind.

Asked how worried she was in the light of Mumbai about the recrudescence of India-Pakistan tensions, Rice said: “It is a far different and better circumstance than we had in 2001 and 2002” when the two countries were on the brink of a war.

“It was pretty dire. They had no relationship between them. We had not terribly deep relations with India or with Pakistan because it was just post-September 11th,” she said.

But “Now, we have very strong relations with India, really deep relations with India, very good relations with Pakistan. I felt that when I went there I was drawing on a reservoir of trust with the Indians that was quite deep,” Rice said.

“And they have tried to have good relations with one another, and I think… they want to preserve that.”

“But this really comes down to dealing with the problem, and that means that Pakistan has got to do everything that it can to help bring the perpetrators to justice,” Rice said adding, “and then also make sure they know as much as they possibly as they can so that you don’t have a follow-on attack of some kind.”

In the Times interview too, she referred to terrorist safe havens in Pakistan compounding the problem of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan has two problems that Iraq does not, and one is that it’s desperately poor. …The other problem is the safe haven across the border. And there, the stability and activity of Pakistan becomes key.”

The top US diplomat said former Pakistan President Pervez “Musharraf, after 2001, did a lot to try and rid Pakistan of extremism. But it’s very deeply buried in that country. It goes all the way back to (former president)Zia-ul-Haq.”

“So I do think that the constraints were loosened and you have a burgeoning civil society in Pakistan. And ultimately, he kept his word. He stepped down. Civilian power was transferred to civilians. The army has not intervened.” Rice said adding, “But it’s a very fragile circumstance.”