Mar 14, 2009

New US plan to encourage talks with militants

On Friday, the Commander of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, and special envoy Richard Holbrooke spent nearly two hours on Capitol Hill, explaining salient features of the new strategy to lawmakers.

The two also spoke on the current situation in Pakistan where the United States has joined efforts to disengage government and opposition forces from a collision course.

The new strategy, expected to be unveiled next week, reflects a conclusion by the review team that a vast majority of insurgents can be persuaded to quit insurgency if provided with proper incentives.

US officials had previously acknowledged that the majority of Taliban activists in Afghanistan were ‘reconcilable’ but opposed talking to the insurgents inside Pakistan.

The new strategy, however, would reverse this policy and would encourage engagement with Pakistani militants as well.

If true, this would be a sigh of relief for Pakistani authorities who are already negotiating peace deals with militants in Swat and some tribal areas. A US endorsement would encourage Pakistan to further expand its peace efforts.

The drone attacks inside Pakistan, however, will continue as they play a key role in the new strategy as well.

The members of the review team, including senior policy makers, think-tank experts and intelligence officials, concluded the US military has successfully driven out hardcore Taliban and al-Qaeda activists from Afghanistan to Fata.

They now want to use the drones to flush them out, the sources said, adding that the Zardari government also supports this strategy.

The new plan would offer more economic and military aide for Pakistan and would also seek to beef up Afghanistan’s military.

Before leaving the Senate for the White House, Barack Obama and Joe Biden (now the vice president) sponsored legislation to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan over the next five years, to $1.5 billion a year.

A similar bill providing for increased aid to Pakistan would soon be reintroduced by the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, and the ranking Republican, Senator Richard Lugar. By Anwar Iqbal

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