New York: Acknowledging that his government had underestimated the threat from Taliban, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said in an interview to a television channel, the terrorist group was present in “huge amounts of land” in the country extending its reach beyond the tribal belt to larger cities like Peshawar.
Now, Pakistan was engaged in a battle to survive against the Taliban’s growing threat, Zardari said in an interview to CBS television network.
“(The Taliban) do have a presence in huge amounts of land in our side. Yes, that is the fact,” he said.
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.
His remarks follow US President Barack Obama’s assertion that “safe havens” for Taliban and Al-Qaeda 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-Qaeda 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.”