WASHINGTON: The commander of US forces in Afghanistan and a senior lawmaker told a Senate panel on Tuesday that the best way to persuade Pakistan to do more is to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. “Perhaps the most effective way to end Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups that target our partners and our personnel in the region is to succeed in Afghanistan,” Senator John McCain told the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
“I think … the way to influence Pakistan is to show that there can be a certain outcome in Afghanistan that means that there should be every effort to help their Afghan neighbours and indeed to ensure that they do that on their side of the border as well,” said Gen David Petraeus.
Although the committee called Gen Petraeus and Undersecretary of Defence Michele A. Flournoy to review the situation in Afghanistan, the hearing also focused on Pakistan.
Senator McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, described Pakistan as “a key challenge” for US policy-makers.
He counted “the growing instability of the country, the insurgent safe havens … and ties to terrorists of elements in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services” among the major challenges confronting the US.
“The seeming deterioration of our relationship amid the continued detention of US Embassy official Raymond Davis” had further complicated this challenge, he said.
But unlike Senator Carl Levin, the committee’s chairman who continued to browbeat Pakistan throughout the hearing, Senator McCain urged caution in dealing with Islamabad.
“Here, too, a measure of patience is needed,” he said. “We have sought every means to compel Pakistan to reorient its strategic calculus, short of cutting off US assistance, which we did once before to no positive effect.” Ms Flournoy agreed: “We must demonstrate to our Pakistani partners that we will remain a strong supporter of their security and prosperity, both now and in the years to come, even as we ask them to do even more to defeat terrorism,” she said.
Gen Petraeus informed the Senate committee that his forces were now “coordinating more closely than ever”, with the Pakistani army.
“For example, the Pakistanis push the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and they go across the border and we are poised, indeed, to be the anvil on which they are driven,” he said. But this was not enough for Senator Levin.
He accused Pakistan of “looking the other way” in North Waziristan and Quetta and thus allowing insurgents to cross into Afghanistan.
“Pakistan may be looking the other way in that regard, but I don’t think we can,” he warned.
Gen Petraeus urged him first to recognise that Pakistan had conducted “very impressive and very challenging counter-insurgency operations” and had made “enormous sacrifices”.
He noted that recent Pakistani campaigns in North Waziristan had brought considerable pressure on Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, significantly disrupting their activities.
Agreeing with Gen Petraeus, Undersecretary Flournoy said: “What’s needed is continued investment in the strategic partnership that we have been developing with Pakistan and very candid engagement with them on these issues to influence their will to go after the full range of groups that threaten both of us.”
For this, she added, the US needed to continue to strengthen Pakistan’s military and its capacity for governance and development in areas like Fata. “We can’t walk away from this problem, and we believe a strategy of engagement and investing in the partnership is the best way forward,” she said.