Pakistan increasingly playing ball to rein in Afghanistan Taliban
Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Kayani is in Washington this week, where he will discuss his country's strides against Al Qaeda and the Afghanistan Taliban.
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After fits and starts, the US-Pakistan relationship has strengthened considerably over the last year, driven in part by a multi-billion-dollar foreign assistance aid package for Pakistan passed by the US in 2009. Meanwhile, Pakistan has shown progress against those militants. The US has tried quietly to provide assistance, keeping its distance while giving Pakistan the breathing room it needs to be effective.Skip to next paragraph
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This has helped the US to declare that operations against Al Qaeda, with Pakistani assistance, have begun to degrade the terrorist organization.
“Al Qaeda is under significant pressure,” according to a senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity but echoed an increasingly recurring administration line. The official said operations in Pakistan, US “global” efforts, and other initiatives were beginning to have an effect on Al Qaeda, even if he didn’t describe what effect that was. “I think it’s much more difficult for Al Qaeda to operate,” he said.
Last week, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Al Qaeda is significantly hobbled, pointing to the combination of actions the Pakistani government is taking against it and other militants there. US drone attacks mounted by the CIA, which Mr. Panetta called one of the “most aggressive operations” in CIA history, are another example of operations given the tacit approval of Pakistan.
All of this comes as the US continues the surge of troops into Afghanistan. By fall, the US will have as many as 100,000 troops there, in addition to a force 45,000-strong of NATO and non-NATO troops. A Marine combat offensive in central Helmand province in the south has so far appeared to be a success, and most combat operations there have concluded. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, is now preparing to send forces into Kandahar to the east, where a more gradual, longer-term operation will begin to unfold this summer.
“The big question is, ‘have the Pakistanis changed their calculus about the risks of harboring militants,’ ” says Alexander Their, a senior analyst at the US Institute for Peace in Washington, who believes that shift has begun to take place. “In so far as they see that balance changing, then they are more able both politically and strategically to constrict that space, and I think we’re starting to see signs of that.”