RAWALPINDI, Feb 1 Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said on Monday the success of military operations in the tribal regions have caused substantial decline in cross-border attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan and warned that it was essential to address Pakistan's long-term strategic concerns for stability in the region.
In a rare press briefing, General Kayani said it would be a cause of worry for Pakistan if Afghanistan's projected army developed the potential to take on Pakistan.
“We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it,” the general said while talking to a group of journalists at the Army General Headquarters. “A peaceful and friendly Afghanistan can provide Pakistan a strategic depth.” He asked the US and Nato to come out with a clear strategy on Afghanistan.
General Kayani who last week participated in Nato commanders' conference in Brussels said Pakistan was prepared to train the Afghan National Army which would help improve relations between the two nations. He said he hoped the offer would get a positive response.
“If we get more involved with the ANA (Afghan National Army) there's more interaction and better understanding,” General Kayani said. “We have opened all doors ... It's a win-win for Afghanistan, the United States, Isaf and Pakistan,” he said, referring to Nato's International Security Assistance Force. He said he believed it would take at least four years to achieve a target of a 140,000-strong Afghan force able to take over security responsibilities.
Pakistan has raised concern over a similar offer by India to train Afghan army, and the issue could become another point of conflict between the two South Asian neighbours. Pakistan's offer reflects Islamabad's rising concern over Indian influence in Afghanistan.
“Our strategic paradigm needs to be fully realised,” General Kayani said.
He warned that an environment hostile to Pakistan could strain its battle against militancy and extremism. He said he had conveyed the concerns and constraints of Pakistan to the Nato allies.
“There are some key issues of the conflict that needed to be fully understood and addressed.” He said there was a need for realisation of Pakistan's key regional position and its contribution in the war.
General Kayani said more than 140,000 Pakistani troops were now involved in fighting militants in the northwest and deployment along the Afghan border. He said over the last seven months Pakistani military had launched 209 major and 510 minor operations in 10 regions. He said 2,273 Pakistani army officers and soldiers had been killed in the fighting so far.
General Kayani said that the military operations in South Waziristan and Swat were at present in a transitory phase -- from hold to build. “We must consolidate our gains and fully stabilise the area secured lest it fall back to the terrorists,” he said.
He warned against losing sight for future operations. “Public opinion, media support, army's capability and resolve are fundamental to our war,” he said.
General Kayani rejected the perception that Pakistan did not want to take on the militants in North Waziristan. “There is already one army division deployed there and we have taken action whenever required,” he declared
He said it was important that the military consolidated its hold in South Waziristan and other tribal regions before starting another army offensive. Last October the army launched a major offensive in South Waziristan which had become the main bastion of Pakistani Taliban movement and Al Qaeda. More than 30,000 troops have been involved in the operation which is said to be the biggest since Pakistan joined the US war on terror after September 11, 2001.
The troops have cleared most of the region, but there are still pockets of resistance. Many Taliban commanders have taken refuge in neighbouring Waziristan. “We have broken the myth that Waziristan cannot be controlled,” he said.
Pakistan has been facing mounting pressure from the United States to start army operation in North Waziristan which is the base for another Taliban faction. The US and western intelligence agencies believe the area is also a base of Afghan insurgents led by Sirajuddin Haqqani. Pakistan had signed a peace deal with the Taliban faction in 2006.
General Kayani said Pakistani military's success in South Waziristan had sent a strong message to the militants operating in North Waziristan and other areas. “There is, however, no need at this point to start a stream roller operation in North Waziristan.”
The army chief said the large number of casualties suffered by the Pakistani security forces and economic losses had not dented the armed forces' resolve to fight terrorism and violent extremism. “We will fight and finish the terrorism in our own interest,” General Kayani said.
He said the intelligence sharing and greater cooperation between Pakistani military and US forces had helped improve the situation. “The regular contacts between Pakistani and US military commanders have greatly helped in understanding each others' position.”