Pakistan a thriving sanctuary for Afghan, Al Qaeda militants: Stratfor

April 7th, 2009 - 10:23 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Arun Kumar
Washington, April 7 (IANS) Noting that Pakistan “is a thriving sanctuary” for both Afghan and Al Qaeda militants operating in Afghanistan, a leading US think tank says Washington needs to get Pakistan on board with its new Af-Pak strategy, though progress is nowhere near assured.

To give its strategy of negotiating with Afghan Taliban even a remote chance of success, “involvement in Pakistan is both a headache and a necessity for the United States,” Stratfor, a global intelligence company, said in an analysis as two senior officials headed to the region.

This is so as Pakistan “is a thriving sanctuary for both Afghan and al Qaeda militants operating in Afghanistan,” the think tank noted. “At the same time, Pakistan contains the primary supply lines for US and NATO troops fighting those militants in Afghanistan.”

US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen arrive in New Delhi Tuesday for high-level talks on US Af-Pak strategy after visiting Islamabad and Kabul.

Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda forces are now focusing much of their attention on attacking NATO supply convoys inside Pakistan, while at the same time the US is trying to beef up its military presence in Afghanistan by another 21,000 troops.

Unless something changes in Pakistan, the US plan for Afghanistan will be riddled with strategic flaws, the think tank said.

The Pakistani government is aware of the dangers posed to the country by the jihadist insurgency, particularly as attacks spread beyond the Pashtun borderlands and reach deeper into the Pakistani heartland of Punjab province, Stratfor said.

“Nonetheless, the Pakistanis do not appear to be any closer to seeing eye-to-eye with the Americans on how to manage the jihadist problem,” it said noting the US “strongly disapproves of Pakistani military and political leaders’ decision to strike deals with the Pakistani Taliban that aim to redirect the group’s focus from Pakistan back to Afghanistan.”

But the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has a history with these militants, and is not convinced that the United States, despite its promised commitment to Pakistani and Afghan development, will keep its troops in South Asia for the long haul, Stratfor said.

At the end of the day, Islamabad wants to keep its options open. That means not alienating these jihadist groups, as Islamabad fears US drone attacks in the tribal regions might do.

Thus, as the United States tries to convince allies and adversaries alike that negotiating with pragmatic Afghan Taliban is the key to winning the war, the Pakistanis will maintain that their own method of negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban and their jihadist allies is the only way to hold the Pakistani state together.

This is a major gap that Holbrooke and Mullen will attempt to bridge during their visit to Pakistan, though progress is nowhere near assured, Stratfor said.

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