Canberra/Washington, July 30 : Australia's Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has said that his country is ready to offer military advisers to Pakistan to help train security forces to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Fitzgibbon has called for an international effort to combat Taliban insurgents based in Pakistan's tribal border areas, including economic and military aid in a television speech today.
"We must arm the Pakistani Army with the skills and means to conduct counter-insurgency campaigns and civil operations," a foreign news agency quoted Fitzgibbon as saying in his speech, and warning that Pakistan must not become a breeding ground for al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah militants.
Fitzgibbon also said he is "pessimistic" about the security situation in Afghanistan, where Australia has 1,080 troops. He said Pakistan must be secured for the U.S. and NATO-led war effort against Afghanistan insurgents to succeed.
"Despite their best efforts, and their heavy losses ..., they are making only limited headway in dealing with the lawlessness in that particular region," he told the National Press Club.
Southeast Asia-based militant group Jemaah Islamiah has been linked to a series of bombings in Indonesia, including blasts on the holiday island of Bali between 2002 and 2005 in which 92 Australians died.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have deteriorated sharply in recent months as Kabul has repeatedly accused Pakistani agents of secretly backing Taliban insurgents fighting Afghan and foreign troops.
Pakistan's new civilian government has launched talks with militants in its tribal border region to defuse violence that has killed hundreds of Pakistanis in the past year.
But Afghan and NATO leaders say the talks have eased pressure on the militants, allowing them to send more insurgents into Afghanistan where attacks along the eastern border are up by about 40 percent this year.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Australia last week, said Pakistan must lift its efforts to stop the flow of Taliban insurgents across the porous Afghan border.
Washington is preparing to bolster its 35,000 troops in Afghanistan with two extra combat brigades. Fitzgibbon said the Afghan army must be larger than its planned 80,000 strength to guarantee security.
Fitzgibbon said any assistance to Pakistan would have to come at the invitation of the country's government and Australia planned to open talks on military and economic aid soon.
"I'm not talking about a deployment which requires force protection and sending people into the tribal areas. I may only be talking about military advisers in Islamabad," he said.
Gilani's administration says it is tackling Islamic extremism using a strategy of negotiation, economic and political development and the selective use of military force in an effort to cut terrorist attacks that killed more than 2,000 people in Pakistan last year.
Pakistani government leaders agreed in a July 23 meeting to increase investment in education and employment in tribal areas to dampen support for militants.
Economic aid to Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas will need to increase substantially,'' said Fitzgibbon. Education levels must rise, economic and social infrastructure must be established with urgency.''
Gilani yesterday called on the U.S. to increase intelligence sharing with Pakistan to allow his government to act swiftly'' against militants near the Afghan border instead of carrying out strikes on Pakistani territory.
We can do it ourselves,'' Gilani told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. The government in Islamabad is striving to save Pakistan from terrorism and extremism'' and isn't a surrogate'' of anyone, he said.