Munich, Feb 10 : US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned that al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan's northwest frontier region pose a direct threat to the Musharraf Government.
The presence of the Islamic extremists in the tribal region is not just "a nuisance" to Pakistan, but "is potentially a threat to their government," Gates told an international security conference here.
Gates, who has been calling for NATO reinforcements to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan, suggested that the time had come for a Pakistani anti-insurgency sweep on its own side of the Afghan border.
Pakistan has dismissed US claims that al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar were operating from its northwestern tribal areas. Washington has placed multi-million dollar rewards on the two men's heads.
A top al-Qaeda operative, Abu Laith al-Libbi, was recently killed in a suspected US missile strike in Pakistan's north Waziristan tribal area early this month.
The Islamic extremist Taliban militia ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and gave sanctuary to bin Laden, who masterminded the September 11 attacks in the United States.
A US-led invasion in October 2001 ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, but they have regrouped and are putting up increasingly stiff resistance to NATO-led international forces, The News reported.