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Analysis: Why Obama ordered troop surge in Afghanistan

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
February 19, 2009 13:48 IST
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United States President Barack Obama's decision to deploy more troops in Afghanistan indicates the deterioration of the war on terror as well as the escalating crisis in Pakistan, according to many military analysts and intelligence officials.

They also fear that America's long-time ally might be on the verge of imploding due to its internal crises.

Last week, the Obama administration's new Director of National Intelligence, Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, informed Congress that Pakistan and Afghanistan 'have to work hard to repulse' the sustained threat from extremist and terrorist groups and avoid a total collapse of the government.

Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, "No improvement in Afghanistan is possible without Pakistan taking control of its border areas and improving governance, creating economic and educational opportunities throughout the country."

He added that the Asif Ali Zardari led civilian government had all but lost authority "in parts of the North-West Frontier Province and has less control of its semi-autonomous tribal areas."

"Even in the more developed parts of the country, mounting economic hardships and frustration over poor governance have given rise to greater radicalisation," he cautioned.

Referring to the covert support provided by Pakistan's intelligence agency to militant activities, Blair observed that for all of Islamabad's so-called "intensified, counter-insurgency efforts, its record in dealing with militants has been mixed as it navigates conflicting internal and counter-terrorim priorities".

In a scathing assessment, he said, "Pakistan's law-and-order situation is dismal, affecting even Pakistani elites, and violence between various sectarian, ethnic and political groups threatens to escalate."

Ironically, Pakistan's Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani had recently informed an audience comprising senior officials of the State, Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies that the cooperation between the security forces of Afghanistan and Pakistan had never been better.

He even boasted of the improving relationship "between the Pakistani intelligence service and the US intelligence service in terms of cooperation in counterterrorist operations."

"The Pakistani military has done more fighting in the last seven months than it did in the preceding seven years in terms of operational engagement," Haqqani said, and talked of successes in Bajor and Khyber "as examples of Pakistan's military and intelligence services working together."

"The crisis in Swat is being addressed militarily and will be addressed with a combination of political and military means, as well as the insurgency everywhere," he had added.

Barely a week later, in a major setback to the war on terror, the Pakistan government was forced to sign a peace deal with Taliban forces in Swat and impose Sharia in the valley. 

Obama approved the order to deploy 17,000 troops in Afghanistan -- which beefs up the US troop strength by 50 per cent -- even before the strategic and policy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan he had commissioned under the direction of former Central Intelligence Agency analyst Bruce Riedel.

The US President stated that it was imperative to 'stabilise a deteriorating situation'.

"There is no more solemn duty as President than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm's way," he said, but added, "I do it today, mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent and swift action."

Obama spoke of how "the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border."

Apparently, Obama's action had been prompted by the Commander of the US and North Atlantic Treat Organisation's forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, who had sought an urgent beefing up of troops in the country.

Haqqani, disturbed by the growing contention in US that the Zardari government had no viable strategy to fight terrorism and the extremism, pointed out, "Some validly argue that Pakistan has been paying a very heavy price for fighting terrorism."

"An argument can be made that more Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks and more Pakistani soldiers have been killed while fighting militants and terrorists," he said.

Haqqani added, "If the US, instead of saying, 'Your problems are your problems, and by the way, why don't you address our issues,' if instead of doing that, the US says, 'We understand that they are integrated and interconnected and we would like to facilitate the resolution of these issues,' then that will be a very positive thing."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC