Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pakistan to US: Stabilize Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, Nov 13: Pakistan has cautioned the United States against withdrawing from Afghanistan without putting in place a stable and broad-based government in the country.

According to sources, US National Security Adviser James Jones was unequivocally told that Pakistan was against a sudden withdrawal of allied troops from Afghanistan and that US must not repeat the mistake of past of disengaging from the region after the departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

The US adviser is here for discussions on the Af-Pak strategy review and to evaluate the role Pakistan could play under the revised policy to be unveiled soon by the Obama administration.

“Pakistan believes that withdrawal at this stage can frustrate efforts for bringing peace and security to the region and have serious repercussions on its security,” the sources said.

During his meeting with Mr Jones, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi raised the issue of peace and security in Afghanistan and its repercussions on Pakistan.

According to a statement issued by the Foreign Office, he emphasised the need for close coordination and consultation on all issues of importance.

According to the sources, Pakistani leaders stressed the need for working for a broader reconciliation in Afghanistan, including engaging the Taliban.

The US adviser told the civil and military leadership that the US did not plan to stay in Afghanistan for a long period and reconciliation efforts would be launched after President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration later this month.

“After the new government starts working in Kabul, we will take into account all options for bringing stability to the country, including reconciliation,” the sources quoted him as saying at one of the meetings.

He said the US would simultaneously tackle the issues of governance, economic development, national integration and counter-insurgency.

With differences of opinion in Washington on the issue of deploying additional troops in Afghanistan, the security adviser appeared unclear about what would be the final decision.

Pakistani leaders clarified that Islamabad was not opposed to additional US troops being dispatched to the region.

Mr Jones was told that Pakistan’s concerns primarily centred on implications of the deployment strategy for additional troops.

The sources said that Mr Jones appeared keen to assess the health of the PPP-led government because of numerous challenges confronting it. He underscored the strategic importance of Pakistan for US plans in the region.

Responding to concerns expressed over growing Indian role in Afghanistan, the adviser said the US understood Pakistan’s sensitivities.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the US adviser that “Pakistan is fully committed to taking its ongoing operations for clearing its territory of terrorists and extremists to their logical conclusion, although its forces are overstretched because of continuous tension on the country’s eastern border”.

Mr Gilani said it was imperative for the US to be sensitive about Pakistan’s core interests -- Kashmir, water, Indian military capability and the need for a balance of power in South Asia.

He said the US would have to use its influence with India for resumption of ‘composite dialogue’ and easing tension with Pakistan to enable it to concentrate its attention and energy on the fight against militancy and terrorism.

Mr Jones also met Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and discussed the operation against militants in South Waziristan and various options being considered by the US for Afghanistan under the revised strategy.

The American security adviser had suggested in a recent interview that an exit strategy could be on the cards. “But we also need a better plan with the allies to gradually turn over responsibility for the country to Afghan institutions and organisations in as short a time as possible.”

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