Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: The commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan who met President Pervez Musharaff here on Tuesday in the midst of a controversy over Pakistan's alleged assistance to the Taliban, showered public praise on Islamabad for its assistance in the war on terror.

Gen. David Richards said the ISAF wanted to build on Pakistan's contribution and "expand cooperation" with it to defeat the Taliban and terrorists.

Since last week, NATO has taken control of security operations in all of Afghanistan, after 12,000 American troops in the east came under its command. British media reported over the weekend that NATO commanders were asking their Governments to get tough with Pakistan over the role of the ISI in assisting the Taliban launch attacks in Afghanistan.

But Gen. Richards, who flew in here on Monday amid media reports that his mission was to present Pakistan with evidence of its involvement in the Taliban insurgency, including its activities in the Baloch provincial capital Quetta, told a private television channel that was not his intention "for one moment".

"I have brought no evidence against the ISI and this is all a propaganda campaign," he said to Geo TV in an interview.

The British general praised Pakistan's role in the war on terror and said he could not think of many other countries that were doing more. He said the question that remained was if still more could be done, and that was not just to Pakistan, but also all others involved in Afghanistan.

Reconstruction work

The general had said in an interview on Sunday that Afghanistan would lose the war to the Taliban unless reconstruction work in the south was speeded up to ensure people did not switch allegiance to the insurgents. He also spoke of "partnership" with Pakistan instead of confrontation.

Gen. Musharraf reiterated Pakistan's support for a strong, secure and stable Afghanistan and said it was in the interest of the development of the entire region, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

He recalled that in his recent meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, and later in Washington, they discussed ways to increase co-operation in the fight against terrorism. He said the agreement with tribals in North Waziristan was aimed at checking the activities of terrorists and the Taliban.