US presses destabilising Pakistan to shift focus from India to insurgency (Lead)

April 24th, 2009 - 1:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Arun Kumar
Washington, April 24 (IANS) Deeply concerned by the deepening insurgency destabilising Pakistan, the US is pressuring Islamabad to shift its focus from India to the existential threat posed by extremists and to reach out to the Indian government to continue with confidence-building measures.

But “changing paradigms and mindsets is not easy”, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told worried US lawmakers Wednesday as they voiced concerns about the latest developments involving Taliban advances in Pakistan.

“But I do believe that there is an increasing awareness, on the part of not just the Pakistani government but Pakistani people, that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat,” she told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Obama administration was “deeply concerned by the increasing insurgency that is destabilising Pakistan,” she said and added that the US government had made those concerns abundantly clear to the Pakistani government, both the civilian and the military leadership.

She said: “We are also encouraging the Pakistani government to reach out, to the Indian government, and to continue some of those confidence-building measures that they were doing, like opening the bus routes in Kashmir and other things that did have some positive effect.”

“If Kashmir blows up, and insurgents come over that line of control, every day or at least every week, then all bets are off,” Clinton said. “If the Pakistani army stays on the line of control and on the Indian border and doesn’t turn their attentions to dealing with the insurgents, we’ve got a mess on our hands. So we do have to navigate through this.”

One of the reasons US was so concerned was nuclear weapons possessed by Pakistan, Clinton said. “You know, we’re - we spend a lot of time worrying about Iran. Pakistan already has them.

“And they are widely dispersed in the country. There’s not a central location, as you know. They are - you know, they’ve adopted a policy of dispersing their nuclear weapons and facilities.

“So it’s imperative that we do everything we can to keep India and Pakistan on a good basis so that when something pops up and they make an accusation and they fall back on what are, you know, just natural impulses to blame the other, it doesn’t escalate.”

The US has had a series of meetings, with both the Pakistanis and the Afghans, going in depth about how to get the Pakistani government to change their focus “from what they viewed as their existential threat, namely India, to what we view as their existential threat, namely this extremist insurgency”, Clinton said.

Asked by Republican Representative Jerry Lewis about efforts to shift Pakistan’s focus from India to a more robust fight against extremists, Clinton said: “There has to be effort to enhance confidence between India and Pakistan. (But) Those are not likely to be undertaken until the Indian elections are over.”

But there have been a number of high-level discussions between the two sides including between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the G20 summit, in London, “raising the issue of how India can do more to tamp down any reaction, on any front, like Mumbai could have provoked,” Clinton said.

“We worked very hard, as did the prior (Bush) administration, to prevent India from reacting, she said. “But we know that the insurgents and Al Qaeda and their syndicate partners are pretty smart.

“They are not going to cease their attacks, inside India, because they are looking for exactly the kind of reaction that we all hope to prevent,” Clinton warned.

“So we do have a lot of work to do, with the Indian government, to make sure that they continue to exercise the kind of restraint they showed after Mumbai (terror attacks), which was remarkable, especially given the fact that it was the political season,” Clinton said.

She assured lawmakers that the Obama administration is preparing a list of benchmarks by which to measure progress in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “You know, on a simple measure, is the Pakistani military still amassing hundreds of thousands of troops on the Indian border, or have they begun to move those toward these insurgent areas? What kind of kinetic action are they taking? How much? … Is it sporadic, so they start in and then they move back?”

But Clinton said the administration prefers that Congress not embody benchmarks in legislation to provide aid to Pakistan, saying they should be seen as a way to hold the administration accountable and not used to paralyse efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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