Rice: Pakistan should up fight against Taliban

/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan needs to do more to prevent Taliban militants from launching attacks into Afghanistan from its territory, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

Speaking in Australia, Rice suggested to reporters that a surge in Taliban-related violence in Afghanistan had its source in the restive semiautonomous tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

"We understand that it's difficult, we understand that the northwest frontier area is difficult, but militants cannot be allowed to organize there and to plan there and to engage across the border," Rice said. "So yes, more needs to be done."

The strong message to Islamabad comes just a few days before Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is to meet U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House.

The Pakistani government has consistently said it will not allow its soil to be used for terrorism or to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has also strongly resisted suggestions that U.S. or other foreign troops should be allowed into the region to combat the militants. Gilani is seeking peace deals with militants through tribal elders in the northwestern regions of Pakistan.

Rice received strong support Friday from Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who described the border region as "the current international hotbed or terrorism."

He said the threat posed by terrorists who may be hiding in the region was too great to leave Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with alone.

"We are very concerned about the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area," Smith said. "We don't believe that can be regarded simply as a bilateral matter between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is an issue which has regional and international community consequences."

Australia has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest deployment of any country outside the NATO alliance.

While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's new government withdrew its combat forces from Iraq last month, it says it has no plans to draw down its troops in Afghanistan. Smith said Australia had no plans to increase its troop numbers there, either.

Rice was making a brief visit Friday to the Western Australian state capital of Perth at the invitation of Smith, who lives there. She was to travel later Friday to Auckland, New Zealand, for talks with Prime Minister Helen Clark.