Australia promises more anti-Taliban troop training for Pakistan

Australia promises more anti-Taliban troop training for Pakistan Islamabad - Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on Monday announced a four-fold increase in the numbers of Pakistani government military officers to be trained in Australia.

Speaking at the beginning of a three-day visit to Pakistan, Smith said the decision would "raise the numbers to 40 to 50 officers."

With around 1,100 Australian troops already stationed in neighbouring Afghanistan, Smith also said his country was ready to respond positively if the US asked it to provide more troops to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.

Smith's visit came as the government in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) signed an agreement with the radical cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad.

Mohammad is a supporter of the pro-Taliban militants fighting for the enforcement of Islamic Sharia law in Swat, located just 160 kilometres from Islamabad.

Under the deal, the government will set up Islamic courts to provide speedy justice to people and end security operations in the region.

Smith welcomed the deal. "It is a positive development and we hope for a positive outcome," Stephen said in a joint press conference with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Smith also flew to the NWFP's provincial capital Peshawar and Khyber pass, the historic border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

More than 120,000 Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters entrenched in its lawless tribal area bordering Afghanistan. They have suffered hundreds of casualties while fighting insurgents.

Smith also said military enforcement was not enough to fight terrorism and it was important to build capacity of the civilian government and engage moderate elements through political dialogue.

"The war against terror could not be won by military means alone and that a multi-pronged strategy was required to root out the causes of terrorism and win the hearts and minds of the people," said Qureshi. (dpa)

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