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Ahmed Rashid on a credible U.S. strategy in Afghanistan

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Pakistan's military insists that any U.S. surge will lead to havoc along its border. In fact, since 20,000 additional U.S. troops started arriving in Afghanistan in March, more and more Afghan, Pakistani and Central Asian fighters have left Pakistan and gone to Afghanistan to take on the Americans. Summertime fighting raged in Helmand in the south, where 10,000 Marines are based, but in the previously peaceful west and north of Afghanistan, where the additional Taliban manpower has helped it expand its territorial control.

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The Pakistan military's primary interest in a U.S.-led regional strategy was that the Americans would help restart Indo-Pakistan talks on Kashmir and other disputes that ceased after the terrorist attack on Mumbai last year, and negotiate a reduction of India's influence in Kabul, which Pakistan now blames for a host of ills (some imagined, some real).

Washington pledged in March to involve all of Afghanistan's neighbors and regional powers to help secure peace. India pointedly snubbed the United States and its regional strategy and demanded that Pakistan first eliminate terrorist groups targeting India from Punjab and Karachi. Iran, Russia and China presented other setbacks to the U.S. initiative.

Now India and Pakistan are both playing for broke. Pakistan says it will support a U.S. regional strategy that does not include India, while India is talking about a regional alliance with Iran and Russia that excludes Pakistan. Both positions -- throwbacks to the 1990s, when neighboring states fueled opposing sides in Afghanistan's civil war -- are non-starters as far as helping the U.S.-NATO alliance bring peace to Afghanistan.

To avoid a regional debacle and the Taliban gaining even more ground, Obama needs to fulfill the commitment he made to Afghanistan in March: to send more troops -- so that U.S.-NATO forces and the Afghan government can regain the military initiative -- as well as civilian experts, and more funds for development. He must bring both India and Pakistan on board and help reduce their differences; a regional strategy is necessary for any U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to have a chance. The United States needs to persuade India to be more flexible toward Pakistan while convincing Pakistanis to match such flexibility in a step-by-step process that reduces terrorist groups operating from its soil so that the two archenemies can rebuild a modicum of trust.

The writer, a Pakistani journalist, is the author of "Taliban" and "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."


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