US to keep pressing Pakistan to shift focus from India to Taliban

May 6th, 2009 - 10:55 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 6 (IANS) The US says it will continue to press Pakistan to shift its focus from India to the fight against the Taliban and would shape aid to Islamabad to ensure it’s not used to further an arms build-up against India.

“We have long felt that our friends in Pakistan could put more resources into the struggle in the west (along the border with Afghanistan),” Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told a Congressional panel Tuesday.

“They have been reluctant to do so because of their longstanding concerns and past history with India. And we will continue to press on that,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Holbrooke was testifying ahead of meetings Wednesday between President Barack Obama and the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Democrat Howard Berman, chair of the panel and author of the proposed legislation linking $1.5 billion in annual aid to Pakistan for next five years to among other things to ceasing support to any group that has conducted attacks “against the territory of India or the people of India,” said there was no “rigid or inflexible conditionality” in it.

“We are simply asking the Pakistanis to keep the commitments they have already made to fight the terrorists who threaten our national security and theirs, and that they make some progress doing so, with progress defined very broadly,” he said.

A number of representatives also questioned the effectiveness of aid to Pakistan. Democrat Gerald Connolly wondered how come Zardari did not have enough resources to fight the insurgents when US has already given $12 billion over the last seven years for Pakistan to improve its military.

Holbrook acknowledged, “Pakistan used a large portion of its resources to build up a military force aimed against India. Pakistan still has more troops on its border with India than on its border with Afghanistan.”

Pakistan did not buy equipment with insurgents in mind. It bought planes over helicopters and neglected, for example, to purchase night vision goggles, he said.

Holbrook agreed with Connolly that if the US was going to have confidence in providing more aid to Pakistan it needed to have “some assurances it’s not just going to go to further the build-up, and reinforce the capacity, vis-a-vis the perceived threat from India.”

“Well, I agree with that, and I think that can be shaped by the nature of the aid,” he said.

In the context of the terror attacks in Mumbai, 9-11, and the assassination of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto, Holbrooke said: “We are talking today about an issue that is of direct importance to our national security.”

Asked by Republican Ilena Ros-Lehtinen about Pakistan’s commitment to rooting out militant groups in view of its strategic concern with India, he said: “Pakistan’s not a failed state… But it is a state under enormous social, political and economic pressures. And India is always a factor.”

On Indian leaders and their perception of Pakistan, Holbrooke said since India has been in election campaign:”They have been listening, they’ve been very interested but they have not taken any clear positions at this point.”

But “they really do share the understanding that what’s happening in western Pakistan is of direct concern to them,” he said noting “The Indians have been public in saying they’re not happy with the cooperation they got after the Mumbai attacks. We all know that.”

Holbrooke said he looked forward to visiting India again after the elections.

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