US lawmakers question deeper ties with ‘unreliable’ Pakistan

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Many US lawmakers are concerned over the Obama administration’s new Af-Pak strategy calling for deepening ties with Pakistan with some calling the Pakistanis unreliable allies against Al Qaeda and its “syndicate” of extremism.

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Key administration officials appearing before a Senate panel Wednesday to explain the new strategy to confront growing extremist activity in Pakistan and Afghanistan faced sceptic senators questioning the Pakistani government’ s willingness to fight extremists using its ungoverned tribal areas for staging attacks.

Armed Services Committee’s Democrat Chairman Carl Levin told Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all US forces in the Middle East and South Asia, and Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defence for policy, that he does not agree that progress in Afghanistan depends on success on the Pakistan side of the border.

Afghanistan’s future should not be tied totally to the Pakistan government’s decisions, he said, adding that he remains sceptical about Pakistan’s ability to secure its border.

While no senator on committee voiced opposition to the strategy, released Friday, several worried aloud that the Pakistanis were unreliable allies against Al Qaeda and its “syndicate” of extremism.

Some wondered if the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency were still supporting elements of the Taliban – the Afghan Taliban were the creation of the ISI in the 1990s – and feared that additional aid and other mechanisms of cooperation that the administration is pledging to deliver to Pakistan will be misdirected or even benefit US enemies.

“We have a new democratic government, (along with) parts of the military, that wants to deal with the extremist threat,” Flournoy told Senator John McCain, the defeated Republican presidential candidate, “Part of our challenge is to empower them.”

Petraeus said that he had discussed reports of ISI complicity with the Taliban in his recent discussions with its chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and would continue to do so.

“There are accusations, frankly, some when you dig into them seem to be more ambiguous than on the surface but some of them are not,” Petraeus said, referring to alleged ISI-Taliban cooperation.

Flournoy conceded to Senator Jim Webb that the US’s ability to secure Pakistan’s unambiguous cooperation against Al Qaeda was “an open question.”

But she said the US’s interest in not allowing western Pakistan to be a staging ground for attacks against the US or a destabilizing force in the region meant “we need to test the proposition” through “a substantive offer of assistance and a committment to work with them.”

A major component of that offer is a forthcoming bill sponsored by Democrat John Kerry and Republican Richard Lugar to grant $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years and condition US aid to the Pakistani military on its efficacy in combating extremism in the western tribal areas.

But media reports citing an unnamed congressional aide said the US Congress is unlikely to complete legislation that both senators have described as urgent before late April at the earliest.