U.S. offers new role for Pakistan

Importance of country to Afghan effort recognized

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

President Obama has offered Pakistan an expanded strategic partnership, including additional military and economic cooperation, while warning with unusual bluntness that its use of insurgent groups to pursue policy goals "cannot continue."

The offer, including an effort to help reduce tensions between Pakistan and India, was contained in a two-page letter delivered to President Asif Ali Zardari this month by Obama national security adviser James L. Jones. It was accompanied by assurances from Jones that the United States will increase its military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan and that it plans no early withdrawal.

Obama's speech Tuesday night at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., will address primarily the Afghanistan aspects of the strategy. But despite the public and political attention focused on the number of new troops, Pakistan has been the hot core of the months-long strategy review. The long-term consequences of failure there, the review concluded, far outweigh those in Afghanistan.

"We can't succeed without Pakistan," a senior administration official involved in the White House review said. "You have to differentiate between public statements and reality. There is nobody who is under any illusions about this."

This official and others, all of whom spoke about the closely held details of the new strategy on the condition of anonymity, emphasized that without "changing the nature of U.S.-Pakistan relations in a new direction, you're not going to win in Afghanistan," as one put it. "And if you don't win in Afghanistan, then Pakistan will automatically be imperiled, and that will make Afghanistan look like child's play."

Proffered U.S. carrots, outlined during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's October visit to Islamabad, center on a far more comprehensive and long-term bilateral relationship. It would feature enhanced development and trade assistance; improved intelligence collaboration and a more secure and upgraded military equipment pipeline; more public praise and less public criticism of Pakistan; and an initiative to build greater regional cooperation among Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

Obama called for closer collaboration against all extremist groups, and his letter named five: al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Pakistani Taliban organization known as Tehrik-e-Taliban. Using vague diplomatic language, he said that ambiguity in Pakistan's relationship with any of them could no longer be ignored.

Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, was more precise in conversations with top Pakistani government and military leaders, U.S. and foreign officials said, stating that certain things have to happen in Pakistan to ensure Afghanistan's security. If Pakistan cannot deliver, he warned, the United States may be impelled to use any means at its disposal to rout insurgents based along Pakistan's western and southern borders with Afghanistan.

Current U.S. policy includes the use of missiles fired from unmanned drones on insurgent locations limited to roughly 50 miles inside the western border; training in two military camps for the Pakistani Frontier Corps; and intelligence exchanges. It prohibits kinetic, or active, operations by U.S. ground forces inside Pakistan.

While praising Pakistani military offensives against groups that pose a domestic threat -- primarily the alliance of groups known as Tehrik-e-Taliban, in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan -- Jones made it clear that the administration expects more.

The rollout of the new strategy is being coordinated with principal U.S. allies, including Britain, whose prime minister, Gordon Brown, said Sunday, "People are going to ask why, eight years after 2001, Osama bin Laden has never been near to being caught."

"Al-Qaeda has a base in Pakistan," Brown said in an interview with Sky News. "That base is still there -- they are able to recruit from abroad. The Pakistan authorities must convince us that they are taking all the action that is necessary to deal with that threat."

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