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Taliban, not India, greatest threat to Pakistan: Zardari

June 25, 2009 21:03 IST

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has said that terrorism, not India, is the greatest "threat" to his country, a significant shift in Islamabad's view of its neighbour that provoked controversy back home.

During a meeting with EU officials in Brussels on Wednesday, Zardari said: "I do not consider India a military threat, India is a reality, Pakistan is a reality, but Taliban are a threat, an international threat to our way of life and at the moment, I'm focused on the Taliban."

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It's something that has been going on for a long time and of course went unchecked under the dictatorial rule of the last president," he had said. The statement marks a significant shift in Islamabad's view of its traditional rival, the Daily Telegraph said. The comments provoked an immediate controversy, with members of the National Assembly raising the issue and several leading Pakistani newspapers criticising him, the paper said.

According to the report, his comments represent a victory for British and American diplomats, who have been trying to persuade Zardari and his army chiefs to concentrate their efforts on confronting the Taliban rather than India. Diplomatic work intensified after the Mumbai terror attack that heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, with senior Pakistani army officers saying they would switch their forces away from fighting Islamist militants to reinforce defences along their border with India, it said.

A senior Pakistani officer even hailed an offer of support from the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, describing him as a patriot. Zardari's government is now focussed on Mehsud's forces and the army is preparing for a major ground offensive in his stronghold.

A full-scale assault on their bases in north and south Waziristan, from where militants launch attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan is imminent, the report said.However, the paper said, Zardari's new approach to India was unlikely to be welcomed too warmly in New Delhi, where the Manmohan Singh government is focused primarily on bringing the perpetrators and masterminds of the Mumbai attacks to justice.

The report quoted a senior figure in Zardari's Pakistan People's Party saying on Wednesday night that people should "be very concerned" about Zardari's statement, which would cause alarm within the Pakistani army. It quoted Gen Hamid Gul, former Inter-Services Intelligence Director General during President Zia ul Haq's regime as saying the president's comments were "technically true", but they would be ridiculed by the army's high command. According to him "the army is in unison. India is our enemy and will remain our enemy."

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