/ 23 July 2010

Envoy hopes for increased US, Pakistan cooperation

Pakistan is cooperating more with US-backed Afghan peace efforts but not to the extent sought by Washington, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan said on Friday.

Speaking on a visit to Britain, Richard Holbrooke cited several areas of progress including a greater Pakistani military push against militants on its soil, but an Afghan Taliban faction called the Haqqani network remained a “real problem”.

“Without Pakistan’s participation, this [Afghan] war could go on indefinitely,” he said in a briefing for reporters after holding talks with Britain’s chief of the defence staff, David Richards, and UK National Security Adviser Peter Ricketts.

“There’s much more cooperation at every level,” he said, citing joint efforts to build bilateral military, consular and economic ties and an expanded assault by Pakistani forces against some militants in areas near the Afghan border.

“But I don’t want to mislead you … it [cooperation] is not yet where we hope it will be,” he said.

Pakistani action against militants on the frontier is seen as important for bringing stability to Afghanistan, where US forces are leading a major Nato offensive against the Taliban.

But Pakistan is believed to be using the Haqqanis to strike a deal with President Hamid Karzai to gain influence and keep the sway of rival India to a minimum should the United States begin drawing down troops in July 2011 as planned.

The Haqqani network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, is one of three main factions of the Afghan Taliban.

The group is blamed for several daring attacks on coalition and Afghan forces and is allied with both Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

Haqqanis a ‘real problem’
Holbrooke declined to discuss North Waziristan, home of the Haqqanis and other armed groups. Washington has urged Pakistani forces to enter the area to attack fighters there.

“Everyone talks about North Waziristan but what we talk about is the Haqqani network,” he said, citing several attacks inside Afghanistan he said it had launched.

“Let’s be very specific … It’s a real problem.”

US officials said in June the United States had given Pakistan evidence about the growing reach of the Haqqanis, which Washington suspects have ties to Pakistani intelligence.

Although denying it supports its old Afghan Taliban allies, Washington’s nuclear-armed ally has long turned a blind eye to their members and support networks in the belief the Taliban represent the only leverage it has over Afghanistan.

Holbrooke reiterated a longstanding dismissal of media speculation about attempts to explore possible reconciliation talks between the Afghan Taliban and US officials.

He said “the emphasis right now” was going on reintegration, a term for efforts to persuade Taliban foot soldiers to lay down their arms and participate in social and development projects.

“The reintegration policy is the key to a successful counter-insurgency campaign,” Holbrooke said.

“As for reconciliation, it’s out there somewhere. We’ve talked about it. The US will support Afghan-led reconciliation and by that we mean we need to know what’s going on. Not much is going on now, and nothing is going on with the United States.” – Reuters