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Instable Pakistan a key challenge for US: McCain

March 16, 2011 10:31 IST

Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, has warned that despite all of America's military operations in Afghanistan, and the claim by Pentagon officials that Al Qaeda and the Taliban is on the run, a failing and instable Pakistan with terrorist safe havens within its borders, remain a key challenge.

During a hearing on the situation in Afghanistan where senior Pentagon officials testified before the committee, McCain, the GOP presidential candidate and erstwhile war hero from the Vietnam era, said, "The growing instability of the country (Pakistan), the insurgent safe havens that remain there, the ties to terrorists that still exist among elements of Pakistan's military and intelligence services and the seeming deterioration of our relationship, amid the continued detention of US embassy officials Raymond Davis," was a major challenge to prosecuting the war against the Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.

But he advised that instead of giving up on Pakistan, 'a measure of patience is needed.'

McCain said, "We have sought every means to compel Pakistan to re-orient its strategic calculus, short of cutting off US assistance, which we did once before to no positive effect."

"To be sure, Pakistan deserves praise for some steps it has taken to fight Al Qaeda, the Taliban groups on the Pakistani side of the border," he said.

"But what we must increasingly recognise is perhaps the most effective way to end Pakistan's support for terrorist groups that target our partners and our personnel in the region, is to succeed in Afghanistan."

McCain argued, "Ultimately, it's only when an Afghan government security forces capable of neutralising the terrorist groups backed by some in Pakistan, that those Pakistani leaders could come to see that a strategy of hedging their bets in this conflict will only leave them less secure and more isolated."

Michelle Flournoy, under secretary of defence for policy, said, "The history of US-Pakistan relations is fraught with disappointments, leading many in both countries to see our relationship as driven by transitory interests."

"In Pakistan, this is manifested in the expectation that we may abandon the region once again as soon as we have achieved our immediate objectives in Afghanistan," she said.

While acknowledging that "our efforts to date have yielded progress in changing this mindset," Flournoy argued that "overcoming years of mistrust will take patience, as well as sustained effort and resources."

Flournoy said, "Our approach with Pakistan is to build an effective partnership that advances both US and Pakistani interests, while also demonstrating to our Pakistani partners that we will remain a strong supporter of their security and prosperity over the long-term."

"Central to our efforts is aligning US and Pakistani interests with respect to denying safe haven to all violent extremist organisations," she said.

With regard to the continued detention of Davis, who it has now been revealed was a former special forces officer working as a contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency in Pakistan, and according to the New York Times, tracking the activities of the Lakshar-e-Tayiba, which apparently had totally ticked off its sponsor and mentor, the Inter Services Intelligence, Flournoy said, "The US government remains extremely concerned about the continued detention of Davis and views this as a violation of Pakistan's international commitments under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."

She said, "The State Department remains actively engaged in a dialogue with the government of Pakistan about releasing Davis as quickly as possible."

"It is critical, however," Flournoy told the lawmakers, "that we work to resolve this issue, so that it does not derail the important progress we have made in the last two years in building a stronger and deeper relationship between our countries."

Aziz Haniffa