ISLAMABAD, Jan 23 – NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called Thursday in Islamabad for stronger cooperation with Pakistan and greater action in the country to stop extremists infiltrating war-racked Afghanistan.,
NATO leads the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), made up of more than 51,000 troops from nearly 40 countries that is helping Western-backed Afghan government forces battle an escalating Taliban-led insurgency.
"We need stronger operational cooperation. ISAF forces on the Afghan side of the border can and will be stepped up this year," Scheffer told a joint news conference with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
"More action is also necessary against those extremists inside this country who are planning and conducting terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan," said Scheffer following talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
US and NATO officials say Pakistan’s rugged northwest tribal belt has become a safe haven for hundreds if not thousands of militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda who fled Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion.
The NATO chief commended, however, what he called significant improvements in Afghan-Pakistani relations, which have been strained by the two countries’ inability to rein in the extremists, since Zardari visited Kabul this month.
He also paid tribute to Pakistani security forces, saying they had paid a "heavy price" in fighting extremism and militancy in lawless border areas.
"Pakistan and NATO share a common strategic objective. Terrorism and extremism, after all represent deepening threats to stability in the region. Pakistan is and must be the part of the solution, with us," Scheffer said.
"I believe that we can all do more and we can all do better, NATO very much included," he added.
Spectacular attacks on depots in and around Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, saw hundreds of vehicles used to ferry supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan from the south set ablaze.
Scheffer said NATO was looking for alternative supply routes into Afghanistan. US General David Petraeus on Tuesday said agreements had been reached on alternative routes with Central Asian states and Russia.
"There have been some attacks on supply lines but I do think that Pakistan — at the cost of human lives, as well — is taking the protection very, very seriously and I have the confidence that this position will not change."
He said that an extra 20,000 to 30,000 US troops announced by Washington for Afghanistan will help improve security and make way for reconstruction, but said it must be backed up by civilian aid from NATO allied countries.