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'Pakistan closer to a nation under siege'

April 30, 2010 13:26 IST

Having pumped billions of dollars in military assistance and rushing guerrilla warfare experts to train soldiers to shore up Pakistan's capabilities to tackle militancy, influential US Congressmen and Pentagon officials feel that the nation is still closer to siege.

"I don't think the dynamic is as distinct as a nation at war or a nation at peace. It's probably closer to a nation under threat or a nation under siege," Lt Gen John Paxton, Director for Operations, Joint Chief of Staff, told the US Congress.

"It (Pakistan) is probably more a nation under threat, and they realise that they have to respond now, that they have both the opportunity and the obligation, and that failure to do so now -- things could conceivably get worse and get worse quickly," Paxton said in a hearing on Thursday.

The top Pentagon's officials assessment came as Congress members cutting across party lines also expressed concern over the progress in Pakistan and raised questions over its capabilities in both governance and fight against terrorism.

"Pakistan's continuing security challenges have serious implications for regional, international and US national security," Ike Skeleton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said in the course of depositions by Pentagon on the situation in Pakistan.

While, acknowledging the pressure on Taliban and Al Qaeda by increased military operations, Michele Flournoy, the Undersecretary for Defence said the Pakistan army's hold over freshly captured terrorists' areas remained fragile.

"Pakistan must have the capabilities to translate tactical successes into permanent elimination of militant and terrorist safe havens," Flournoy said.

Observing that stable and secure Pakistan is of vital strategic importance to the US, Gen Paxton US Marines said, simply clearing these areas of the militants is insufficient. This progress would be undermined if the Pakistani security forces are unable to hold and gradually build in these areas.

As Pentagon officials built up a fragile scenario in Pakistan, the Republican Skeleton said, "There is still a long way to go, and, frankly, a lot of hard work. Hold-and-build capabilities are integral to counterinsurgency operations in Pakistan, but they're not yet developed."

Another Republican Congressman Buck McKeon said, "Despite increased military operations, Pakistan is a nation that is more appropriately comparable to a combat zone, such as found in Afghanistan, and should be treated as such."

"How would you assess the current security environment in Pakistan if we had to plot it on a spectrum? Would it fall under or closer to the heading of a nation at war or a nation at peace? How does the country see itself," McKeon asked.

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett raised the question of safety and security of nuclear weapons.

"We don't even know who controls it," he said, to which Flournoy said the statement is inaccurate.

"I believe that we have a good understanding of their command-and-control system, there are clear lines of command and control, and they have made a great deal of investment in the security of their nuclear arsenal," she said.

"We know that the person who created them had no problem in dispersing this capability pretty widely. What about those who are controlling them now?" Bartlett asked in an apparent reference to A Q Khan.

"The Pakistani State both in the civilian leadership and the military leadership, is dominated by people with a very secular orientation and with a very strong commitment to their responsibilities as a possessor of nuclear weapons," Flournoy argued.

"Pakistan since the elections is working through the civilian control of the military, and I wouldn't say, certainly, a fledgling democracy, but a democracy that had been out of practice for some years when Musharraf cemented the power there. But I think based on both civilian-to-civilian and military-to-military to relationships, there is a respect for the obligations and the responsibilities on both sides of the aisle, whether it is a uniform or a suit," Paxton said.

"I think General Kayani is mindful of the obligation to control the nuclear stockpile and where they may be, but also responsive to where President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani may go as the government continues to manifest itself," he said.

Flournoy acknowledged that that Pakistani military has been a very strong institution historically, and remains a strong institution today.

"That said, it is also an institution that it desires and accepts civilian control, and wants civilian leadership," she noted.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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