3 Apr 2009

US urged to overhaul of Pakistan-Afghan policy

1:48 pm on 3 April 2009

United States policy on Afghanistan must focus on Pakistan, strengthening civilian government and ending the use of militant groups as an instrument of foreign policy, according to a report by a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration.

The Asia Society, whose chairman was Richard Holbrooke until appointed US special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan in January, convened a taskforce of former government officials and academics to compile the report.

Task force chairman Barnett Rubin said the US and its allies had for too long focused on Afghanistan while allowing problems to fester in Pakistan, where the weak civilian government has little control over tribal areas that have become safe havens for al Qaeda.

"The regional centre of gravity of the problem is not in Afghanistan," Mr Rubin said.

The report argues that there are no al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, but many in Pakistan where a variety of other militant groups have long thrived on covert backing from the military and intelligence apparatus.

"Because it faces India, which it sees as an enemy, Pakistan has adopted formally the use of jihadi groups as instruments of their foreign policy. One of the aims of our regional diplomacy should be to use all the resources we can to encourage, cajole, force, persuade Pakistan to change its policy away from using those jihadis."

Essential to that would be meeting Pakistan's legitimate security concerns, the report said, and easing tensions with India. Relations between the nuclear-armed rivals were strained further by November's attacks in Mumbai, which India says were conducted with the involvement of Pakistani state agencies.

The economic crisis risked further weakening Pakistan's government, the report said.

"Perhaps the most urgent priority is to prevent economic collapse which could undermine state authority even in major urban areas in the next few months."

It cited estimates that halting the economic decline in Pakistan might require a five-year package of $US40 billion to $US50 billion, a sum that dwarfs Pakistan's existing $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund bailout.