WASHINGTON: Key US officials have told Congress that Pakistan was regaining control over the tribal areas and the North Waziristan operation can bring peace to the entire region if it succeeds.

US Assistant Secretary of Defence Kelly Magsamen told a congressional panel that Pakistanis had deployed over 125,000 troops in Fata and was “increasingly gaining control over territory”.

“But at the end of the day, the situation in Fata is really a long-term governance challenge for Pakistan, in addition to a security challenge,” she added.

“So we’re encouraged by some of the steps they are making. Is it totally adequate? No. But we do think they are on the right trajectory.”

Ambassador James Dobbins, the special US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, told the panel that after an extended effort to negotiate with the TTP, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered a major military offensive designed to clear all militants, foreign and domestic, out of their major stronghold in North Waziristan.

He warned that in the short term, this offensive will present challenges to Afghanistan as innocent civilian refugees along with Afghan, Pakistani and other foreign militants flee across the border.

“In the longer term, however, if the Pakistani authorities deliver on their promise to deny the use of their territory to all militant groups, foreign as well as domestic, this effort will significantly enhance security in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

At a US Senate hearing on Afghanistan, US officials and lawmakers also focused on the North Waziristan operation, describing it as a delayed but much-needed action.

Senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, drew attention to the operation, calling it “a long overdue move which indicates that their government is taking the threat from cross-border terrorist groups more seriously”.

Ambassador Dobbins told the panel that among Afghanistan’s neighbours, Pakistan probably has “the greatest potential for influence over Afghanistan’s future, for better or worse”.

He said that in the past, Pakistan had projected influence in Afghanistan “by its toleration of and even support for Afghan militants” but the growth of an indigenous militant threat to Pakistan’s own constitutional order persuaded Islamabad to reconsider its position.

Ambassador Dobbins noted that links between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban made the option of tolerating Taliban “increasingly costly and ultimately unsustainable strategy and one that most of the Pakistani leadership now recognise as wholly unsustainable”.

Senator Menendez observed that the Pakistanis still worried about Washington’s commitment to staying in the region and were making judgments based on that. He said he still doubted if the Pakistanis were going to do very much to the Haqqani network.

Responding to a question about Pakistan’s influence in the region, Ambassador Dobbins said Pakistan’s behaviour would be one of the main sources of leverage on the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2014

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