Robert Gates arrives in Pakistan to conduct talks on terrorism

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Pakistan on Monday for talks with the country's leader on counterterrorism cooperation and Pakistan's efforts to stop militants from crossing into Afghanistan, officials said.

Gates, on his first visit to Pakistan since becoming the Pentagon chief, arrived at a military base near the capital, Islamabad, a defense ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Gates was scheduled to hold talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and was likely to then leave for Afghanistan, the ministry official said, although there was no confirmation from U.S. officials the defense secretary would visit Pakistan's western neighbor.

Pakistan's efforts to stop militants' infiltration into Afghanistan - and Pakistan-U.S. cooperation in fighting the militants - will figure in the meeting between Musharraf and Gates, another Pakistani government official said Sunday. He also declined to be identified, citing policy.

Gates' visit follows a series of suicide bombings in Pakistan, and comes amid fears of a renewed spring offensive by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, after 2006 saw the deadliest upsurge in violence since the hard-line regime's ouster five years ago.

Pakistan - a close U.S. ally in its campaign against terrorism - has faced repeated claims that the Taliban militia stage attacks from Pakistan against Afghan government troops, and against NATO- and U.S.-led coalition troops.

Pakistan says it does all it can to stop cross-border militancy, and has deployed about 80,000 troops along its rugged border with Afghanistan.

But the U.S. military says the use of Pakistan's largely ungoverned Waziristan area as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters has worsened since Pakistan put in place a peace agreement there with tribal leaders in September.

American forces in eastern Afghanistan have launched artillery rounds into Pakistan to strike Taliban fighters who attack remote U.S. outposts, the commander of U.S. forces in the region told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Musharraf acknowledged recently that his outgunned Pakistani frontier guards have allowed insurgents to cross the border and said the army soon would fence parts of the border to stem the problem.

Pakistan's military action against militants inside its borders - also a possible hiding place for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri - risks sparking more violence on its own soil, the AP reports.

An airstrike last month on a suspected al-Qaida hide-out in South Waziristan killed at least eight people and prompted a top Pakistani militant to threaten revenge. There have since been a series of bombings and suicide attacks, including at an Islamabad hotel and its airport.

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