Pakistan has 'no clear path on fighting militancy: US

WASHINGTON (Agencies) - A new White House report warned Tuesday that Pakistan still had no clear path to triumph over insurgents, and said Afghanistans Taliban were turning more and more to soft civilian targets. The semi-annual White House report to Congress is designed to judge progress or otherwise towards key objectives of the war in Afghanistan and operations against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, now nearly a decade old. The report said Pakistan lacks a robust plan to defeat Taliban militants and its security forces struggle to hold areas cleared of the Qaeda-linked fighters at great cost. The report noted a deterioration of the situation in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan alongside the Afghan border between January and March this year. It details an operation in Mohmand Agency and Bajaur Agency in the areas that started in January to clear insurgent strongholds - the third time in two years that the Pakistani army has attempted to complete the task. It said the operation had been hampered by militant resistance, poor weather, the need to settle internally displaced people and the discovery of several caches of improvised explosive devices. What remains vexing is the lack of any indication of 'hold and 'build planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations, the report said. As such there remains no clear path to defeating the insurgency in Pakistan, despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 forces. This is the third time in the past two years that the army has had to conduct major clearing operations ... a clear indication of the inability of the Pakistani military and government to render clear areas resistant to insurgent return, the report said. One problem was the low operational readiness of the Pakistani militarys helicopter fleet - a vital tool in effective counterinsurgency strategy. The report noted this situation had been exacerbated by Pakistans reluctance to accept US maintenance teams to work on the helicopters. The report also however noted the tremendous human sacrifices made by Pakistani forces in the region. On a more encouraging note, the report said US-Pakistan military cooperation had survived the outcry caused by a deadly shooting incident involving a CIA contractor. In spite of strains on the relationship stemming from the detention of US official Raymond Davis, bilateral military cooperation continues on a positive trajectory, it said. It said that recent Pakistani efforts in the Fata had been coordinated with Nato-led forces in Afghanistan to ensure that insurgents could be captured as they tried to flee across the border. The White House report says that Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to co-operate more to destroy insurgent havens on both sides of the border. The US survey, portions of which remained classified and have not been released, also reflected rising recent bloodshed in Afghanistan, particularly among civilians. A rising number of suicide attacks in recent months suggested that this years fighting season had begun in Afghanistan and seemed to suggest a shift in Taliban tactics against softer government and civilian targets. The shift in the Talibans greater use of murder and intimidation tactics reflects an insurgency under the pressure of a more substantive coalition military campaign, the report said. That said, there are also indications that the Taliban remains confident of its strategy and resources, and heavy fighting is expected to resume this spring. The report also showed slight progress in the last six months in involving the international community to help stabilise Pakistan, and overall, modest progress in the US surge strategy to subdue the Taliban. But it said that absenteeism and attrition continued to pose a risk to the quality of the Afghan National Security Forces that are vital to Washingtons goal of eventually drawing down its troop presence in Afghanistan. The report also contained the previously published summary of Obamas 2010 annual review of the Afghanistan and Pakistan conflict, first issued in December. That assessment found that Obamas troop surge strategy announced in 2009 had made modest gains but the challenge was to make US progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan durable and sustainable. Noting that Pakistan is central to Americas efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and prevent its return to the region, US President Barack Obama said progress in US-Pak relationship last year was substantial but uneven. Progress in our relationship with Pakistan over the last year has been substantial, but also uneven, Obama said in the third-quarterly report to the Congress. He said the review also highlights particular areas in US strategy for Pakistan that require adjustment. Specific components of the strategy, taken individually, indicate we are headed in the right direction, both in terms of US focus and Pakistani cooperation. However, better balance and integration of the various components of our strategy will be required to reach our objectives, Obama said. For instance, the denial of extremist safe havens will require greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. Furthermore, the denial of extremist safe havens cannot be achieved through military means alone, but must continue to be advanced by effective development strategies, the President said. In 2011, we must strengthen our dialogue with both Pakistan and Afghanistan on regional stability. Toward that end, Secretary Clinton plans to host foreign ministers from both countries in Washington for another session of the United States-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral dialogue. On bilateral issues, we must support the Government of Pakistans efforts to strengthen its economy, improve governance and security, and respond to the development needs of the Pakistani people, Obama said. The administration will continue US-Pak Strategic Dialogue and sustain senior level engagement, he said. Pakistan is central to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda and prevent its return to the region. We seek to secure these interests through continued, robust counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency cooperation and a long-term partnership anchored by our improved understanding of Pakistans strategic priorities, increased civilian and military assistance, and expanded public diplomacy, he said. Progress in our relationship with Pakistan over the last year has been substantial, but also uneven. We worked jointly in the last year to disrupt the threat posed by al-Qaeda, and Pakistan has made progress against extremist safe havens, taking action in six of seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, he said. We believe our renewed bilateral partnership is helping promote stability in Pakistan, he said. It clearly communicates US commitment to a long-term relationship that is supportive of Pakistans interests and underscores that we will not disengage from the region as we have in the past, Obama said. Obama told Congress that only 47 per cent of Pakistanis favour Pakistan and Afghanistan working together to fight terrorism, even as 57 per cent of them agree that both the countries share a common interest in fighting insurgency. A Department of State survey showed that 66pc of Pakistanis said they want to see their country make efforts to improve relations with Kabul, and 57pc of Pakistanis agreed that Pakistan and Afghanistan share a common interest in fighting terrorism, Obama said revealing a recent survey by the State Department. However, only 47pc of Pakistanis were in favour of Pakistan and Afghanistan working together to fight terrorism, with 36 per cent opposed, the US President said in his report to Congress. Obama said during October1 - December 31, US disbursed over USD 206 million in civilian assistance and over USD 82.4 million in military assistance to Pakistan, continuing a modest upward trend on the civilian side. As of December 2010, the US Embassy reported that in total, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has disbursed USD 877.9 million in civilian assistance since the passage of Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation in fall 2009, not including emergency humanitarian assistance. While some new programmes are underway, it will take time for other projects, particularly large infrastructure projects, to be fully implemented, he said.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt