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Zardari Says Taliban In 'Huge' Amounts Of Pakistan

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari during a visit to Kabul on January 6
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The Taliban has established itself across a large part of Pakistan, forcing the country to fight a war against the hard-line Islamist group that is about Pakistan's own survival, President Asif Zardari told CBS News in an interview to be broadcast on February 15.

"[The Taliban] do have a presence in huge amounts of land in our side. Yes, that is the fact," Zardari said in an excerpt of the interview released two days before it is scheduled to air.

U.S. President Barack Obama said this week there was no doubt terrorists were operating in safe havens in the tribal regions of Pakistan, and the United States wanted to make sure Islamabad was a strong ally in fighting that threat.

Obama and Zardari spoke by telephone on February 11, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said. The two discussed the surge in violence by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which has stepped up its insurgency against U.S. forces and the Afghan government.

"Our forces weren't increased," Zardari said, suggesting he thought Pakistan had been in denial about the Taliban in the past. "We have weaknesses and they are taking advantage of that weakness."

Meanwhile, a senior Taliban official claimed a U.S. missile strike killed "at least 25" Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan's South Waziristan region on the Afghan border on February 14.

Zardari has now put 120,000 soldiers into the fight against the Taliban, despite concerns among many Pakistanis that it is fighting a proxy war for the United States.

"We're not doing anybody a favor," Zardari said. "We are aware of the fact it's...Taliban...trying to take over the state of Pakistan."

"So, we're fighting for the survival of Pakistan," he added. "We're not fighting for the survival of anybody else."

Zardari, who was elected last year after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto in 2007, rejected suggestions that he lacks the full support of the military and intelligence services, saying he was confident they were behind him.

"If that wasn't the case, then Islamabad would have fallen because obviously if the army doesn't do its job, these men are not restricted," he said. "They've blown up the Marriott Hotel before. They've attacked us inland before. They would be all around us, wouldn't they?"