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Visiting Pakistan, NATO Chief Urges Greater Efforts On Afghanistan


Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (right) and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a joint press conference in Islamabad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- NATO and Pakistan should both step up efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, the alliance's secretary-general has said, adding that a surge of U.S. troops without reconstruction would not end the Afghan conflict.

Pakistan is vital to Western efforts to defeat an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan with both the United States and NATO depending on it to stop Taliban infiltrating into Afghanistan and to defend their supply lines.

"We can all do more and we can all do better, NATO very much included," alliance Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference in Islamabad.

The United States has more than 33,000 troops in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama has committed to send more to try to turn the tide of the insurgency.

European allies have 27,000 troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Commanders say eliminating militant rear-bases in lawless ethnic Pashtun lands on the Pakistani side of the border is crucial.

"ISAF efforts on the Afghan side of the border can and will be stepped up this year and more action is also necessary against those extremists inside this country who are planning and conducting terrorists attacks inside Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Pakistan's military issued a blunt call on January 20 for outside powers to stop demanding it do, pointing out many more Pakistani soldiers had died in the war against militancy compared with soldiers from other countries.

Pakistan is battling militants in the northwest as it keeps a wary eye on its eastern border with India after militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai led to a spike in tension between the neighbours.

'Surge Not Enough'

Pakistan says it has moved limited numbers of troops off the Afghan border for defensive purposes in response to the tension with India but de Hoop Scheffer said he had seen no impact of that on Pakistan's efforts to tackle the Taliban.

"There is nothing happening to the detriment of those operations," he told a joint news conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Qureshi said the tension on the Indian border did not help but Pakistan remained responsible to its obligations to fight militants on the Afghan border border.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO members needed to follow the U.S. lead in boosting their commitment to the fight in Afghanistan, and those countries that could not send more troops should help with development.

A surge of troops would enable forces to take on militants where it was now not possible and to hold territory once cleared.

"But a military surge all by itself is not enough. It will not do the trick...The trick is reconstruction and development. But for reconstruction and development to take place you need security and stability and that is the role of the military."

De Hoop Scheffer thanked Pakistan for its efforts to protect NATO supply lines through Pakistan into landlocked Afghanistan.

Pakistani Taliban militants have in recent months stepped up attacks on trucks passing through Pakistan.

Chief of the U.S. Central Command General David Petraeus said on January 20 that agreements had been reached for new routes into northern Afghanistan through Central Asian states and Russia.

"We are also, of course, interested in some possible alternatives as far as transit is concerned," de Hoop Scheffer said.