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Petraeus Says Pakistan 'Galvanized' To Fight Taliban

Army General David Petraeus

Army General David Petraeus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The growing Taliban insurgency in Pakistan has galvanized the nuclear-armed country to fight an "existential threat," the top U.S. commander for the Afghan-Pakistan war theater said on May 10.

Army General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, pointed to Pakistan's intensifying offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley as a sign its political leaders, people, and military were united against the militants.

"The actions of the Pakistani Taliban...seem to have galvanized all of Pakistan," he told the "Fox News Sunday" program. "There is a degree of unanimity that there must be swift and effective action taken against the Taliban."

Pakistan hopes to stop the Taliban insurgency with its offensive in the Swat valley, a former tourism enclave about 130 kilometers from Islamabad, after U.S. criticism that the government was failing to act against the Islamist militants.

Pakistan's military said up to 200 militants had been killed in Swat and the neighboring Shangla district in the past 24 hours.

"Certainly the next few weeks will be very important in this effort to roll back, if you will, this existential threat -- a true threat to Pakistan's very existence that has been posed by the Pakistani Taliban," Petraeus said.

The offensive was launched while Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, was in Washington assuring a nervous United States that his government was committed to fighting militancy.

Zardari said Pakistan was fighting a "war of our existence" against an Islamist movement that grew from the 1980s anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan that was "a kind of a cancer, created by both of us, Pakistan and America."

But he disputed assertions his country faced collapse. "Is the state of Pakistan going to collapse? No," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" program.

"We need to find a strategy where the world gets together against this threat, because it's not Pakistan-specific. It's not Afghanistan-specific," said Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who also was in Washington, told NBC that talks with Zardari made him "a lot more confident and a lot more hopeful" Pakistan was on the same page as Afghanistan and the United States in fighting the Taliban.

Zardari did not address the latest fighting but called for greater aid for his beleaguered democratically elected government, including more funds beyond U.S. plans to give $1.5 billion annually for five years to support development.

"Democracy needs help," he said, repeating a remark he made before his White House summit on May 6 with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has committed to winding down the war in Iraq and shifting the U.S. focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Altogether this aid package is not even one-tenth of what you give [troubled U.S. insurance firm] AIG. So, let's face it -- we need, in fact, much more help," said Zardari.

The Pakistani leader also repeated Islamabad's request for unmanned drones that fire missiles at Taliban and Al-Qaeda figures within Pakistan -- weapons the U.S. military has used to target militants in the border regions.

"I've been asking for them, but I haven't got a positive answer as yet," Zardari said. "But I'm not giving up."