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Taliban breathing down our necks: Zardari

"We’re not doing anybody a favour. We are aware of the fact ... Taliban... (are) trying to take over the state of Pakistan. So, we’re fighting for the survival of Pakistan.

New York, February 14
President Asif Ali Zardari has made a startling admission that Taliban militants are present in “huge amounts of land” in Pakistan and his government is fighting for the “survival” of the country.

"(The Taliban) do have a presence in huge amounts of land in our side. Yes, that is the fact," he said in an interview to CBS television network.

Acknowledging that his government had underestimated the threat from Taliban, Zardari said Pakistan was engaged in a battle to survive against the terror group’s growing threat. Once confined to the country’s tribal area bordering Afghanistan, from where they carried out strikes against the US-led coalition forces in the war-torn country, the Taliban had extended their influence in Pakistan’s inland to cities like Peshawar and the Swat Valley, Zardari added.

The Taliban, he said, had been taken for granted for a long time. “It’s been happening over time and it’s happened out of denial. Everybody was in denial.” Many thought they were weak and they would not be able to take over or challenge the government, Zardari said. As a result, the forces to challenge them were not increased. But “we have weaknesses and they are taking advantage of that weakness,” he said in a yet-to-be telecast interview, excerpts of which were released by the CBS. Zardari’s remarks follow US President Barack Obama’s assertion that “safe havens” for Taliban and Al-Qaida would not be allowed in Pakistan. Zardari, who is battling public opinion in Pakistan where most citizens believe that the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaida was America’s war their government was fighting by proxy, said: “We’re not doing anybody a favour. We are aware of the fact ... Taliban... (is) trying to take over the state of Pakistan,” he said. “So, we’re fighting for the survival of Pakistan. We’re not fighting for the survival of anybody else.” Zardari said he was determined to prevail. “I lost my wife (former premier Benazir Bhutto) to it (terrorism). My children’s mother ... It’s important to stop them and make sure that it doesn’t happen again and they don’t take over our way of life,” he said. “That’s what they want to do.”

Observers have also questioned how much power Zardari really has and whether he has the full support of the military and the powerful intelligence service. But Zardari said they are behind him. “If that wasn’t the case, then Islamabad would have fallen because obviously if the Army doesn’t do its job, these men (Taliban) are not restricted. They’ve blown up the Marriott Hotel before. They’ve attacked us inland before. They would be all around us, wouldn’t they?” he said. — PTI

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