Although Pakistan faces an 'existential' threat from terrorists within its borders, many of its leaders are still hung up on India as that country's principal enemy, the chief of United States Central Command has informed the US Congress.
This observation was made by Army General David Petraeus, who was addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee to sell President Barack Obama's comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he unveiled last week. Petraeus feels that not only do Pakistan's leaders consider India as the principal threat, but believe these terrorist groups can be used against India as a potential strategic asset.
"The Pakistan state faces a rising -- indeed, an existential -- threat from extremists such as al Qaeda and other transnational terrorist organisation, which have developed in safe havens and support bases in ungoverned spaces in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions," the United States Central Command head said.
Petraeus bemoaned, "Many Pakistani leaders remain focused on India as Pakistan's principal threat, and some may even continue to regard Islamist extremist groups as a potential strategic asset against India."
Even though he did not name Pakistan or Iran, he cautioned that, "Some countries in the AOR (area of operation) play a dangerous game of allowing or accepting extremist networks and terrorist facilitators to operate from or through their territory, believing that their own people and governments will be immune from the threat."
Petraeus also defended the Obama administration's strategy in considering Afghanistan and Pakistan jointly in its fight against terrorism, although Washington clearly recognises the clear differences between the two nations, and the funds and troops levels requested by the administration will be applied in different ways.
"Although the additional resources will be applied in different ways on either side of the border, Afghanistan and Pakistan comprise a single theater that requires comprehensive 'whole-of-governments' approaches that are closely coordinated," he said.
Petraeus said that Pakistan requires particular and specialised handling, which is quite different from that of Afghanistan, and pointed out that democratic institutions in that country 'are fragile'. He added that Pakistan has suffered significant losses in civilian and military lives in its operations against the extremists.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban had established safe areas in the Federally Administered Tribal Area and North West Frontier Province areas, said Petraeus, adding that they "not only contribute to the deterioration of security in eastern and southern Afghanistan, they also pose an ever more serious threat to Pakistan's very existence."
"It is in Pakistan that al Qaeda senior leadership and other transnational extremist elements are located. Operations there are imperative, and we need to provide the support and assistance to the Pakistani military that can enable them to confront the extremists who pose a truly existential threat to their country," he said.
Navy Admiral Eric T Olson, the commander of the US Special Operations Command, also appearing before the Committee with Petraeus, warned of the 'increasingly dire' situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said that President's Obama's comprehensive strategy was the right one because it "includes a clear focus on al Qaeda as the enemy, and that a whole-of-government approach is directed."
"Our units have been conducting both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency for several years," he said, and added, "We will continue to provide our broad capabilities to our fullest capacity in order to meet the needs of our elected and appointed civilian leaders and our military operational commanders."
Olson said that even though al Qaeda has suffered significant losses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, its "surviving leaders have proven adept at hiding, communicating, and inspiring."
Operating from remote bases in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qaeda remained "a draw for local and foreign fighters who subscribe to its extremist ideology and criminality," he said.
Meanwhile, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, who was one of the architects of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy that she co-chaired with Bruce Riedel, acknowledged that for the strategy to be successful it is imperative that Pakistan "must move to dismantle the safe havens on its territory and defeat the terror and insurgent networks within its borders."
Flournoy told the lawmakers that doing this is "absolutely critical to the security and stability of that nuclear armed state."
Indicating that the US will conduct its own operations when actionable evidence is found, Flournoy asserted, "We have learned in the past, at too high a price, the danger of allowing al Qaeda and its extremist supporters to have safe havens and access to resources to plan their attacks."
"This is why we have troops in Afghanistan and why we are going to heavily engage and intensify our efforts in Pakistan," she said.
Making it clear that the US will persuade Pakistan to rid itself of its paranoia of India as the principal threat, Flournoy said, Washington would "encourage and enable it to shift its focus from conventional war preparations to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism preparations."