‘Pakistani leaders still see India as greater threat than terrorists’

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Even as Pakistan faces “an existential threat” from terrorists, many Pakistani leaders consider India as its principal threat and regard extremist groups as potential strategic asset against India, according to a top US commander.

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“Destabilization of the nuclear-armed Pakistani state would present an enormous challenge to the United States, its allies, and our interests,” General David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

Describing Pakistan and Afghanistan as “the most urgent problem set” in the region, he said: “Pakistani state failure would provide trans-national terrorist groups and other extremist organizations an opportunity to acquire nuclear weapons and a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks.”

“The Pakistani state faces a rising – indeed, an existential – threat from Islamist extremists such as Al Qaeda and other transnational terrorists organizations, which have developed in safe havens and support bases in ungoverned spaces in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions,” the general said.

“Nevertheless, many Pakistani leaders remain focused on India as Pakistan’s principal threat, and some may even continue to regard Islamist extremist groups as a potential strategic asset against India,” Petraeus said.

The Obama administration’s entire strategy for Pakistan depended on Pakistan “embracing the idea that the biggest threat to their country is the internal extremist threat rather than the threat to the east,” he said referring to India.

Pakistan is facing its own insurgency from militants and extremists operating from the country’s tribal areas. As in Afghanistan, violent incidents in Pakistan, particularly bombings and suicide attacks, have increased over the past three years, Petraeus said.

Most of these have targeted security personnel and government officials, but some have intended a more public impact, he said citing “the tragic assassination of (former) Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the more recent attacks in Mumbai.”

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other insurgent groups operating from the border region are engaged in an increasingly violent campaign against Afghan and Coalition Forces and the developing Afghan state, he said.

The US he said would help the Pakistani military in its operations against militants in parts of the tribal areas, in two ways – by providing increased US military assistance to make them a more effective counter-insurgency force by promoting cooperation across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The general proposed approaching the challenges in the region through “a disaggregation of the problem sets into six sub-regions,” with “Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India” at the top though India is not within the boundaries of the Central Command.