Monday, November 30, 2009

Pakistan seeks plan with US and Britain to tackle Taliban

PAKISTAN’S PRIME minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has demanded that the United States and the United Kingdom enter a joint strategy with his country to tackle the Taliban on the Afghanistan/ Pakistan border.

Also speaking yesterday, British prime minister Gordon Brown said Pakistan had “to do more” to capture al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

It was not acceptable that eight years on from the 9/11 attacks, he was still free.

The focus on Pakistan by Mr Brown and a series of ministers is striking given Pakistan’s continuing assault on Taliban fighters in its northern border region.

Speaking before he left for Germany, Mr Gilani said extra US and British troops in Afghanistan could make his difficulties worse if it simply led to the Taliban slipping across the border to escape.

“We have highlighted our concerns about the possible increase in US forces in Afghanistan. Our fear is that if the troops are increased, the militants might spill over to Pakistan,” he said.

Meanwhile, the January meeting in London of international leaders will sign off on a plan to prepare to hand over security to Afghan police and military, following extra training for new Afghan soldiers.

Four hundred provincial and district governors will be appointed within nine months to improve local governance and end corruption, while Afghan security should take the lead in five of the country’s 34 provinces by the end of next year.

The January 28th conference in London is expected to be attended by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the foreign ministers of 42 other countries involved in Afghanistan.

In television interviews yesterday, Mr Brown said questions had to be asked why no one had been able to “spot or detail or get close to” the al-Qaeda leader, and said Pakistan must do more “to break” the organisation.

Pakistan had to join “in the major effort that the world is committing resources to, and that is not only to isolate al-Qaeda, but to break them in Pakistan”, Mr Brown told the BBC.

Mr Brown will meet Mr Gilani in Downing Street on Thursday.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari was given notice in a telephone conversation of Mr Brown’s determination to focus on the al-Qaeda leader.

“We should have been able to do more . . . to get to the bottom of where al-Qaeda is operating from,” he said.

He added that Pakistan had to make sure it was taking on the Taliban directly during its current military operations in South Waziristan.

“We want, after eight years, to see more progress in taking out these two people at the top of al-Qaeda, who have done so much damage and are clearly the brains behind many of the operations that have hit Britain,” said Mr Brown.

However, the focus on bin Laden has surprised some security quarters, given a prevailing view among many of them that bin Laden is little more than a figurehead, and not directly running terrorist operations.

Supporting Mr Brown, foreign secretary David Miliband said: “We want the Pakistan government, the Pakistan security forces, to join us in upping our game in ensuring that the badlands of the Afghan-Pakistan border are no longer able to be a centre for international terrorism.”

Given that US president Barack Obama will this week announce major troop increases, Mr Miliband said that it is “right that we recognise that stability in Afghanistan requires stability in Pakistan”.

* Pakistan’s president has transfered authority over the nation’s nuclear weapons to the prime ministership, as the unpopular leader tries to deflect growing criticism he has too much power.

President Asif Ali Zardari, beset by corruption allegations, has been under pressure to give up sweeping powers that his predecessor Pervez Musharraf accumulated for the presidency.

The transfer of the chairmanship of the National Command Authority (NCA), which oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, came as Mr Zardari could face pressure after the lapse of an amnesty opened several of his top aides to prosecution on graft charges.That amnesty, and growing criticism that Mr Zardari has too much power, may herald more political instability in Pakistan.

The prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, told reporters the transfer of the chairmanship was a “a true litmus test” of relations between him and Zardari.

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