Daily Times : US Afghanistan-Pakistan linkage unscrambling

Saturday, May 02, 2009

US Afghanistan-Pakistan linkage unscrambling

* Senior US official tells New York Times Washington no longer looking at how Pakistan could help Afghanistan

Daily Times Monitor | May 2, 2009

LAHORE: The big idea behind the Obama government’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy was that the two countries are inextricably linked. The key to stabilising Afghanistan was a stable and cooperative Pakistan.

That view has changed already.

“We’re no longer looking at how Pakistan could help Afghanistan,” a senior administration official told The New York Times on Thursday. “We’re looking at what we could do to help Pakistan get through [the Taliban emergency].”

President Barack Obama and his top advisers have been meeting almost daily to discuss options for helping the Pakistani government repel the offensive. The conversations are complicated by deepening doubts within the administration about Pakistani authorities, and by resistance in Congress.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates went to Congress to warn that unless American military aid can be accelerated, Pakistan will run out of money by the middle of this month to finance operations against Taliban.

Gates pledged that he would soon provide Congress with specific goals to judge progress in Pakistan. He said the goals would be “pretty elaborate” and fall into three categories: security, development and governance. He noted that the Taliban move into Buner had “set off an alarm bell” in Pakistan. “I think ... now they’re beginning to see these guys have designs on the Pakistani government.”

The degree of American concern will be laid bare next week when the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan travel to Washington for meetings at the White House and State Department. The so-called trilateral sessions are likely to be dominated by worries about Pakistan, officials said.

“This is not South Vietnam,” said Ambassador Husain Haqqani, warning against an overreaction. “The Taliban need to be fought, but they’re not about to take over Pakistan and overcome a one-million-strong military.”

American counter-terrorism analysts said it was unclear whether the Pakistan Army and paramilitary troops would succeed in driving the Taliban of Malakand.

“The security situation is tense, and there are a series of militant networks still in the district,” said RAND Corporation analyst Seth Jones.

The administration’s “nightmare scenario” is a convergence of the Taliban in the Tribal Areas and militant groups in the Punjab.