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20 May 2009
Pakistan's military chief has held low-key talks with his Australian counterparts Wednesday and agreed to step-up counterterrorism cooperation as his country targets pro-Taliban militants in the Swat Valley.
General Tariq Majid, the commander of the Pakistani armed forces, has held private discussions in Canberra with his military counterpart, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
In a statement, Fitzgibbon said that Pakistan's ability to defeat Taliban insurgents was "critical to regional and global security."
Earlier this month, Pakistan launched an offensive against militants in the Swat Valley, about 130 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad.
General Majid has reiterated Pakistan has continued to support U.S. and NATO-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan, where several hundred Australian troops have been deployed.
The government in Canberra has been urging the authorities in Islamabad to intensify efforts to combat militants and prevent them from moving across the Afghan border.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says that Pakistani forces should be careful to avoid harming the innocent in its pursuit of Taliban extremists.
"We certainly expect that the Pakistan government will protect human rights and do its best to ensure that its civilians aren't put into a conflict zone or put into danger but the real point here is, it is the extremist activity of the Taliban and other terrorists who are putting pressure on Pakistan itself, putting pressure on the Pakistan Government, putting pressure on Pakistani civilians," Smith said.
Smith has announced that an extra $9 million will be spent on food and other aid for those made homeless in the Swat Valley conflict. The battle between the Pakistani army and Taliban militants has displaced more than 1.5 million people.
Australia has already agreed to increase its assistance to the police in Pakistan, including help with crime and terrorism investigations as well as intelligence analysis.