WASHINGTON: Pakistan has allowed the US military and its coalition partners in Afghanistan to maintain a presence in Quetta, says a Pentagon report to Congress.
The report, which was released to the media on Wednesday, also notes that tensions between India and Pakistan have a direct impact on Afghanistan and therefore, the United States must consider relations between South Asia’s two nuclear neighbours while making any strategy for Kabul.
“Pakistan Army General Headquarters recently approved a US Office of Defence Representative and Coalition presence at the Pakistan military’s 12 Corps HQ in Quetta,” the Pentagon tells Congress.
Earlier reports in the US media said that Pakistan also had allowed the CIA to expand its presence in the Balochistan capital.
“Yes, we have asked for that, and we continue to ask for that,” said a Pentagon official when asked if the United States wanted more actions against alleged militant sanctuaries in Quetta.
The Americans claim that senior Taliban leaders are hiding around Quetta and use their bases in that area to supervise attacks on US and allied forces in Afghanistan.
“While the US government recognises the tremendous effort” by the Pakistani military against the militants, “insurgent safe havens along the border will remain the primary problem to achieving a secure and stable Afghanistan”, the Pentagon warns.
One initiative towards this end, the report adds, is increasing the cooperation between Afghanistan, Isaf, and Pakistani forces along the border to provide a more comprehensive approach to eradicating the insurgency.
“There is still much work to be done, but there is a positive trend line towards achieving the overall strategic goals,” says the Pentagon while acknowledging that its relations with the Pakistani military have improved. Advocating a regional, rather than a country-specific approach to the Afghan problem, the Pentagon observes that “India’s presence in Afghanistan cannot be understood without considering the tense, fragile relationship between Pakistan and India”.
The report notes that the kind of developmental work that India has done in Afghanistan “is really vital” to the success of US efforts there, “at the same time, Pakistani perceptions of that – and they’re regularly voiced, both in formal and informal conversations by a wide range of people in Pakistan – is an area that is a continuing concern”.
Pakistan complains that India uses Afghanistan for stirring troubles in Balochistan and other places and has concentrated its presence in areas close to the Pakistani border.
“Certainly the perceptions of Pakistan are important as well as the perceptions of India,” said a Pentagon official while explaining how the US viewed the two neighbours’ complaints against each other.
“It has to be looked at in context, without trying to be judgmental that one side or the other’s perceptions are wrong, but it’s important to be aware of those perceptions,” he said.
India continues to be one of Afghanistan’s largest donors, providing $1.3 billion for major infrastructure projects like power transmission, power lines and roads. India also provides agriculture assistance and has increased access to degree scholarships and training programmes.
While the report to Congress does not talk about Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operations, the Pentagon official, who briefed the media on the report along with a representative of the State Department, noted that the LeT was part of “a broad syndicate of extremist groups” allegedly operating from Fata. The State Department official, however, said that the US had asked Pakistan to take ‘specific actions’ against the sanctuaries used for carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan and against Islamabad’s neighbours.
The US, he said, had asked Pakistan to take steps in North Waziristan and to go after more directly in the areas that were sanctuaries for the Afghan Taliban.
The Pentagon official, however, explained that in Swat, Pakistan not only destroyed the hideouts of Pakistani militants but also acted against those who wanted to participate in violent activities in Afghanistan.
“Now that the Pakistani government has control of Swat, that kind of export of fighters into Afghanistan from that area is sharply down,” the official added. He pointed out that Pakistan also had ‘suffered tremendously’, with over 30,000 casualties in the last two years.
“At the same time, we believe it’s important for Pakistan to go after insurgents and extremists and those who threaten their neighbours as well, and we’re working with them to that end,” the official added.