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Pakistan back in Barack Obama's good books

August 02, 2012 08:41 IST

The Barack Obama administration apparently believes that Pakistan has discarded its use of ISI-sponsored terrorist groups to foment its strategic depth strategy vis-a-vis India in Afghanistan, and has told Congress that Pakistan has also re-deployed its troops from the Indian border to its border with Afghanistan to meet the internal terrorist threat it faces.

Richard Olson, President Obama's new Ambassador-Designate to Pakistan, appearing before the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as part of his confirmation hearing, assured lawmakers that "we have seen a great shift in the government of Pakistan's approach over the past few years to dealing with the internal threat that is represented by the terrorist groups."

He acknowledged that "there was a time in the not too distant past when the Pakistani army was primarily deployed along its frontier with India. (But) It is now very heavily deployed internally, especially around in the area around Quetta to deal with the insurgent threat."

"And of course," he added, "we are all familiar with the counter-insurgency operation in SWAT a few years ago."

Olson said the US "has recognised and indeed supported this change, and thanks to the generosity of Congress, we have a variety of funding mechanisms providing security assistance to build the capability of the Pakistani forces, particularly in counter-insurgency operations, moving them away from a focus on heavy armour towards lighter counter-insurgency operations."

"There have been challenges with the security assistance programme, but I will look forward to working with you and members of other committees to see what we can do to remove some of the obstacles and move forward on those important security assistance programs," he said.

Olson was responding to the opening remarks by the chairman of the committee, Senator John F Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who said, "Many Pakistanis believe that America will once again, simply abandon the region as we did after the fall of the Soviet Union, and this is one reason, that Pakistan continues to hedge its bets and rely on certain insurgent groups for strategic depth."

But Senator Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, obviously unconvinced by Olson's contention that Pakistan had given up on its strategic depth strategy in Afghanistan formulated by the ISI and the military to keep India off-balance, said, that while "Pakistan is concerned about Afghanistan, they are more concerned about India not having any influence there because they (Pakistan) are such a narrow country and it's at their rear. They'd rather be destabilized, would they not, than for India to have any influence there?"

But Olson argued that "on the question of this being a doctrine that the Pakistanis have over the years and have talked about strategic depth -- the idea that Afghanistan represents strategic depth against in a potential conflict with India -- my sense is that the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government had moved away from that."

He said (Pakistani) Foreign Minister (Hina Rabbani) Khar has made some public comments about moving away from the doctrine of strategic depth, Chief of Army Staff, General (Ashfaq) Kayani has redeployed his forces internally to deal with the internal threat and heavily toward the border with Afghanistan to deal with the threats emanating from that region."

Olson said that while "there's a basis at a strategic level for some further discussion with the Pakistanis," he believed that "these are frankly positive developments that we would want to encourage as Pakistan looks to its strategic position."

He continued to maintain that "the Pakistani government is very concerned about the internal threat from insurgents and extremist organisations," and that "the Pakistani army has been effectively re-deployed," and that many of its troops that "used to be on the Indian border has now been redeployed internally with the threat coming from extremists."

Last week, Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao, in an interaction that followed a major address to the Asia Society in Washington, DC, asked by possible India-Pakistan  cooperation on bringing about stability in Afghanistan, said, "India has consistently said that we are more than prepared to talk to Pakistan about the need for us to work together for peace and stability in Afghanistan -- to provide development, to provide better opportunities for trade and transit for Afghanistan and for Afghan goods so that the levels of prosperity in that country go up."

Thus Rao argued that "it's very, very important to eliminate terrorism in our region and not to allow violence to derail the processes of normalization and dialogue in our neighbourhood and between India and Pakistan and for that matter in Afghanistan."

"But we have to see how the levels of response from Pakistan are," she said, and noted, "the response that we have got from Afghanistan on this has -- and I must be frank -- not been in the affirmative so far. (So) I won't use words like positive or…but I'll just say it's not been in the affirmative so far."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC