US ‘gravely concerned’ about Pakistan ‘crisis’

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : The US defence chief says he is “gravely concerned” about the “crisis” Pakistan is facing as Taliban militants fight their way past the army toward the capital of Islamabad.

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The Taliban, aided by Al Qaeda, are “recruiting through intimidation, controlling through fear and advancing an unwelcome ideology through thuggery”, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters at the Pentagon Monday

“The consequences of their success directly threaten our national interests in the region and our safety here at home,” he said.

Mullen was speaking ahead of a joint meeting President Barack Obama is having here this week with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss economic, political and security benchmarks for ousting militant forces from the region.

The defence chief who visited Pakistan and Afghanistan last week, said while fighting continues in Iraq, and the US remains committed to the mission, “the main effort in our strategic focus from a military perspective must now shift to Afghanistan”.

Mullen expressed concern that the political leadership and military leadership in Pakistan are working at cross-purposes.

The Taliban are “pretty consistent” with their fighting, but lately have been “more coordinated” and “operating at a higher level”, he said.

Mullen said he is as concerned as he was a couple of weeks ago that Pakistani security is at a “a tipping point”, but asserted the Pakistani military is capable of dealing with the security of nuclear weapons right now.

“I remain comfortable that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan are secure,” Mullen said on the same day The New York Times published an article saying US officials are increasingly nervous about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

“We all recognise, obviously, the worst downside of – with respect to Pakistan is that those nuclear weapons come under the control of terrorists. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t see that in any way imminent whatsoever at this particular point in time.”

Mullen said he is comfortable with the security of nuclear weapons because the US has spent the last three years investing, assisting and improving security.