YORK - As Pakistan presses on its military offensive in Buner under intense US-led international pressure, the government has agreed to move 6,000 troops from the Indian border to fight militants on its western border with Afghanistan, a leading American newspaper reported Wednesday.
The troops to be shifted had originally been on Pakistans western border but were sent to the Indian border in December, after the attack in Mumbai the previous month, The New York Times said, citing a Pakistani official who requested anonymity to discuss troop movements in advance.
India had responded to the Mumbai attack, which Indian and American officials concluded was planned in Pakistan, by massing troops on the Pakistani border.
The promised redeployment, which will essentially return Pakistans military presence in the northwest to pre-Mumbai levels, comes as American and Pakistani officials are preparing for what are likely to be tense meetings in Washington next week between President Barack Obama, President Zardari and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, The Times said in a team coverage of the Pakistans decision to take on the militants.
American officials have alternately criticized and praised Pakistan, in the hope of goading it into taking tougher action against the Taliban, and on Tuesday they engaged in both strategies, it was pointed out.
Early in the day, a senior military official, one of several American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the security strategy of an ally, expressed anger about what he saw as Pakistans fecklessness in trying to combat militants within its borders.
It is reasonable for Pakistanis and Americans alike to ask why there has not been a more robust, sustained and serious response to elements that assassinated Benazir Bhutto, blew up the Marriott Hotel, attacked a visiting cricket team and assaulted a police academy, the official said, ticking off a series of violent events that began with the killing of the former prime minister. He said it was inexplicable that the incidents had not galvanised the Pakistan Army and civilian leaders to link arms in a comprehensive, sustained campaign to fight back.
But later in the day, after the United States received word of the troop movement, the official took a different tone. Its too soon to say how its going to turn out, the official said. But its a promising sign that they finally recognise the existential threat to their country.
American officials said they were continuing to press Pakistan to accept more American trainers, an issue likely to come up in the meetings next week. More than 70 American military advisers and technical specialists are already working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle militants in the lawless tribal areas, but the US would like to expand the effort.
But American officials, who welcomed the redeployment, said Pakistan was still not doing enough to fight the insurgents, who are tightening their hold on the country. The Americans expressed frustration that Pakistan was still rebuffing their offers to train more Pakistanis to fight Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Pakistan has balked, American officials was cited as saying, because it does not want a large American presence in its country.
Theres a red line about our advisers and any foreign boots on the ground in Pakistan right now, a senior administration official said. He said that the US was doing everything we can within the constraints that are currently placed on our engagement to be as helpful as we can.
Meanwhile, a State Department spokesman said Pakistan is taking military action against extremists in its own interest, not as a gesture of goodwill to the United States.
I dont think its a question of goodwill. This is something thats in the interest of the Government of Pakistan. These Taliban and other extremists pose an existential threat to Pakistan, Spokesman Robert Wood said in response to a question at the daily briefing.
Theyve also caused problems for the Government of Afghanistan. So this is not the Government of Pakistan showing the US goodwill. This is Pakistan taking action that it believes is in its own interest, he added.
At the same time, the spokesman acknowledged the tough challenges facing Pakistan and expressed solidarity with the government in taking on the menace of violent extremism. The Government of Pakistan, as weve said, it faces some very serious challenges. And we have called on the Government of Pakistan and the military to take decisive action against the extremists. They realise the challenges that they face.
Its a very difficult situation for the Government of Pakistan. We will be with them as they continue to fight these extremists. But were under no illusions about the challenges, and this extends to Afghanistan as well.
And, you know, we will be providing assistance to Pakistan to support them in their efforts. But, you know, as I said, were under no illusions about the difficulties that they face. But what Pakistan needs to do with these extremists is not to give in to them and to take forceful action. And as I said, we will be supporting them as best we can as they go forward.