WASHINGTON: A five-member defence delegation from Pakistan has urged the United States to devise a mechanism for continuing to support the operation against Taliban militants in Fata even after its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The delegation, which visited the United States last week, has also asked the Obama administration to re-evaluate its plan to withdraw all American troops from the country by the end of 2016.
The delegation had a series of meetings with Pentagon and State Department officials and lawmakers in Washington and also visited Tampa, Florida, for a meeting with the Commander of the US Central Command, who supervises the region, which includes Pakistan.
“In all these meetings, they stressed the need for reviewing the US withdrawal plan and for developing a mechanism to help Pakistan fight the militants,” said an official familiar with the talks.
At the Pentagon, the delegation met the undersecretary of defence for policy planning and at the State Department they met the US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. On the Hill, they met members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Later, the delegation briefed the US media on these meetings and on the message they brought from Islamabad. The Pakistani media was not invited to this meeting and no separate briefing was held for them either.
One of the main points of discussion in these talks was the expected expiration of the Coalition Support Fund after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials said that Pakistan’s struggle to eradicate militancy would continue after the US withdrawal as well. They also said that due to Operation Zarb-i-Azb, they had increased their troop deployment along the Afghan border, from 150,000 to 175,000.
They argued that Pakistan would need international support for maintaining such a large number of troops along the border and for continuing the fight against the militants.
“That’s why they urged the US administration to device a mechanism for continuing to support Pakistan after the expiry of the Coalition Support Fund as well,” said the official familiar with the talks.
The Pakistani delegation also informed the Americans that Pakistani militants had opened camps in Nooristan and were using those “safe havens” in Afghanistan for carrying out attacks on Pakistani troops.
Taliban launched two raids into Pakistan in less than a month, killing a number Pakistani troops, including two captains.
The Pakistanis were also worried that Afghans officials had allowed unchecked movement of 30 to 40 thousand refugees, fleeing Operation Zarb-i-Azb began.
Meanwhile, the US media, which was briefed by the delegation, reported that Pakistan wanted the White House to “urgently … re-evaluate its plan to withdraw all American troops from the country by the end of 2016.”
The Pakistanis argued that “the Obama administration would destabilise Afghanistan if it carried through with its drawdown plans, which would send at least 1.5 million refugees -- including unknown numbers of militants -- streaming across the border into Pakistan,” reported the Foreign Policy news site.
The Pakistani delegation also argued that the administration had based its withdrawal plans on three conditions: free and fair elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power; a bilateral security arrangement allowing US troops to remain in the country; and building a strong Afghan army.
None of these conditions had yet been met.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2014