By Anwar Iqbal, Dawn
WASHINGTON: The new US policy for the Pak-Afghan region will be a combination of continued military presence in Afghanistan and an increase in military and economic assistance to Pakistan, officials and lawmakers say.
US President Barack Obama holds his final meeting with his senior military advisers on Friday to finalise the policy. Mr Obama has already held six such meetings with senior military and political advisers since late last month.
‘We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,’ said Mr Obama while defining the strategy he is expected to announce soon.
But even after weeks of review, administration officials say a range of options is still under consideration, including whether additional US forces could be deployed in phases.
At 3.40am on Thursday, Mr Obama visited Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base to attend the transfer of 15 soldiers and three drug enforcement agents killed in Afghanistan this week.
The solemn visit underscores the enormity of the president’s decision as he has to choose between saving American lives and defeating the terrorists to prevent future attacks.
Meanwhile, the US media reported that President Obama had asked senior officials for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions were being managed effectively by local leaders and which required international help.
The media interpreted this as indicating that the administration was now shifting its attention away from Kabul and was seeking to deal directly with strong provincial and tribal leaders. The reports claimed the Obama administration had now concluded that the Taliban could not be eliminated as a military and political force, regardless of how many more troops were deployed.
The clearest outline of the new US policy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, however, came from Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who underlined the key position Pakistan enjoys in the new strategy:
No front is more important in the US fight against international terrorism than nuclear-armed Pakistan — and chaos next door in Afghanistan would have enormous repercussions there.
Pakistan is not only the headquarters of Al Qaeda today but could eventually become the epicentre of extremism in the world.
If the United States and its allies are perceived as incapable of doing the job, it would help extremists recruit and raise doubt — not just in the region, but globally — about America’s resolve and its effectiveness.
While stabilising Afghanistan is not going to solve all the problems in Pakistan, instability in Afghanistan can only increase the risk of conflagration where the world can least afford it: Pakistan.
Given the balance of US strategic interests, the United States should give serious pause to the current balance of US expenditure between Afghanistan, where there is virtually no Al Qaeda, and Pakistan, where there is, tallies thirty-to-one.
There are serious challenges for Pakistan’s civilian, military and intelligence leaders. Historically Pakistani intelligence services have used the Taliban as a hedge, and there is a real concern that that continues.
If the US falters in Afghanistan, factions within Pakistan may well determine it is in their interest to strengthen their dealings with extremists.