Obama’s Afghan war plan heaps pressure on Pakistan

Obama’s Afghan war plan heaps pressure on Pakistan

Islamabad: US President Barack Obama’s new Afghan war plan will heap pressure on Pakistan to dismantle Taliban and Al-Qaeda sanctuaries, but the embattled government fears the surge could spark further instability.

Announcing his strategy for turning around the eight-year war in Afghanistan, Obama pledged to send 30,000 more troops to the battlefield, but set a timetable for a gradual US withdrawal starting in July 2011.

He said in his speech that success in Afghanistan was “inextricably linked" to Pakistan, which saw a flood of militants enter its lawless borderlands after the Taliban were ousted from Afghanistan in 2001.

There was no immediate official government reaction, but speaking to reporters in Europe hours before Obama’s speech, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi expressed caution over the fresh deployment of US forces.

“Our issue is not that the United States is increasing its troops in Afghanistan or not, but how they deploy them," he was quoted as saying in The News, an English-language daily newspaper.

The Pakistani Prime Minister last week said that an influx of new US troops in southern Afghanistan could push more militants across the border into Pakistan, further destabilizing its already-troubled border regions.

“There will be a negative effect of this surge in Pakistan as militants will drive into the border region and create problems in Pakistan," echoed retired Brigadier Saad Khan, a former defence attache in Afghanistan.

The party of main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif -- traditionally cool towards America -- welcomed news of a timetable for withdrawal of US troops from the region, where many people liken the foreign presence to an occupation.

“Obama has given an exit strategy and if this is implemented in one-and-a-half years it is a welcome move," Raja Zafar ul-Haq, chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, told AFP.

Islamabad has this year launched multiple offensives against Taliban militants across its northwest, sparking a wave of retaliatory suicide bombings and attacks that have killed hundreds of people this year.

But Washington and London have said the government must do more to stamp out Al-Qaeda sanctuaries and stem the flow of Taliban rebels hiding out in Pakistan and slipping into Afghanistan to attack foreign troops.

This has created frustration in Pakistan, where security has drastically deteriorated since Islamabad joined the US-led “war on terror", with militant attacks soaring and thousands of soldiers and civilians killed.

Both the Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban leadership have declared jihad -- or holy war -- against Islamabad over its partnership with the US.

“Pakistani soldiers are already sacrificing their lives and there has always been a demand for more sacrifices from Pakistan, but efforts are not made to strengthen its capacity to fight," Zafar ul-Haq said.

Since taking office, Obama has approved a massive aid package to try and combat extremism here through development, but military aid still comes on the condition that Pakistan achieve measurable success in tackling militancy.

For years Pakistan’s security agencies supported Islamist groups, at first openly in a US-backed campaign to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s, then covertly in an effort to counter their arch-rival India.