Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pakistan Says West Must Cut Source of Taliban’s Funding, Arms

By Ed Johnson

Pakistan defended its fight against Islamic extremism and called on Western governments to choke off funding and arms supplies to Taliban insurgents. Sardar Tariq Azizuddin, the country’s ambassador to Turkey, said people should question how the Taliban grew strong enough to take on NATO and U.S. forces. “What is the source of Taliban funding and what is the source of their weapons supply?” Azizuddin said in an interview with Turkish media, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported yesterday. “Nobody either talks about it or wants to talk about it.”

The Obama administration says Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal regions threaten the stability of the nuclear-armed nation and hamper the war effort by the U.S. and NATO in neighboring Afghanistan.

Turkey was hosting a meeting of the so-called Friends of Democratic Pakistan, which includes the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia and the World Bank. The group promotes international support for Pakistan as it aims to overcome security and development challenges. The government in Islamabad says it is winning its fight against extremists and that the Taliban is in disarray after rebel chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a missile strike earlier this month. Mehsud led a force of 5,000 fighters in the South Waziristan tribal region, after forming the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan alliance in 2007, according to U.S. military analysts.

Swat Valley

The government also hails its 10-week offensive against insurgents in the northwestern Swat Valley as a sign of success, saying militants have been cleared from towns and villages. “The armed forces secured the main areas and are mopping up some elements on the fringes,” APP cited Azizuddin as saying.

The anti-Taliban offensive by NATO and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan has pushed militants across the border and “aggravated the situation in our country,” the ambassador said, according to the report. After a U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, guerrillas fled to bases in Pakistan where they re-armed and trained, according to U.S. intelligence agencies. The insurgency has grown, with militants crossing back and forth across the frontier.

The illicit opium trade, worth as much as $470 million last year, is a major financial pillar for the Taliban, funding training bases and buying weapons and explosives, according to the United Nations. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN yesterday that Afghanistan’s security is getting worse as the Taliban insurgency grows “more sophisticated.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Johnson in Sydney at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net.

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