‘Top Al Qaeda, Taliban leadership based in Pakistan’

April 21st, 2009 - 10:51 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Arun Kumar
Washington, April 21 (IANS) Warning that the top leadership of Al Qaeda and Taliban was most likely based in Pakistan, a US South Asia expert has suggested that President Barack Obama shift the focus of his much talked about Afghanistan-Pakistan policy to Pakistan.

As a narrow focus on counter-terrorism is insufficient to protect US interests in South Asia, Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations - a Washington think tank, also advocated a long-term approach including encouraging rapprochement between India and Pakistan.

“Over the past two years, the security environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan has taken a significant turn for the worse,” Markey said.

Besides Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pashtun belt “a range of other violent actors-from Punjabi anti-Indian extremists to Central Asian warlords-operates in the non-Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan”.

Pakistan and Afghanistan offer these groups an unusually hospitable environment, one that complicates and magnifies the danger, he said suggesting “Today, Al Qaeda’s top leadership is most likely based in Pakistan, along with top Taliban leaders, both Afghan and Pakistani”.

Pakistan’s non-Pashtun extremist and sectarian groups, some of which were historically nurtured by the state as a means to project influence into India and Afghanistan, also have the potential to prove deeply destabilising.

“If present trends persist, the next generation of the world’s most sophisticated terrorists will be born, indoctrinated, and trained in a nuclear-armed Pakistan,” Markey warned.

A policy of inducement - through financial, technical, and diplomatic assistance - is the best means to shift the strategic calculations of influential Pakistanis and bolster moderates who share basic US interests, he said.

“Still, winning influential partners will not be easy,” Markey said, noting many within the ranks of Pakistan’s army and intelligence services “prefer to hedge their bets by retaining ties to militant groups with violent anti-Indian and anti-Western agendas”.

Urging the Obama administration to recalibrate its strategy to emphasise the priority of the mission in Pakistan, Markey said the US should quietly encourage India’s new government after its national elections to reinvigorate dialogue with Pakistan and facilitate early interactions if necessary.

In the medium term, the US should engage in a dialogue with top Pakistani military and civilian leaders about prospects and avenues for normalising the nuclear programme in ways that are not perceived to threaten Pakistan’s security with respect to India.

Finally in the long run, it should encourage rapprochement between India and Pakistan through quiet overtures and reiterate Washington’s longstanding commitment to support or facilitate when and if necessary, Markey said.

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