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Why Pakistan would welcome delayed US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Jalil Abbas Jilani, told reporters at a Monitor Breakfast Tuesday that the country has seen heightened militant activity along its border as US troops have drawn down in eastern Afghanistan.

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    Pakistan ambassador to Washington, Jalil Abbas Jilani, addresses reporters at a Monitor breakfast Tuesday.
    Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
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Hints from senior Obama administration officials that the United States could put off the planned end-of-2016 military withdrawal from Afghanistan are viewed positively by neighboring Pakistan, the country’s ambassador to Washington, Jalil Abbas Jilani, told reporters at a Monitor breakfast Tuesday. 

A slowing of the timetable for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan “would be viewed very positively in Pakistan,” given the increased militant activity the country has seen along the border as US troops in eastern Afghanistan have drawn down, Ambassador Jilani said. 

The Pakistani military has had to carry out a “surge” of its troops along the border with Afghanistan “over the last several months” as the departure of US troops has led to an increase in cross-border militant activity, Jilani said.

The increased deployment of troops on the border, from 145,000 to about 177,000, has meant that Pakistan has had fewer soldiers to help carry out the counter-militant offensive the government has under way in the restive North Waziristan province, Jilani said. 

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter suggested after meetings in Kabul last week that the timetable for withdrawing the 10,000 US troops still in Afghanistan could be adjusted. The US is considering leaving some troops longer to ensure that “progress sticks” as Afghan security forces take over the country’s security, Mr. Carter said.

Under the current plan, the 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan are to fall by half by the end of this year, with the remaining 5,000 scheduled to be out by the end of 2016. The plan could be announced when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits the White House later this month.

Jilani said the offensive under way in North Waziristan has been a “huge success” and has succeeded in clearing 90 percent of the territory of militant groups. He said the military would soon “go after” the remaining 10 percent unsecured territory.

The Pakistani diplomat, who has been in Washington for 14 months, said the Haqqani Network, one of Pakistan’s militant organizations, has been “completely disrupted” and has not carried out any recent attacks in North Waziristan.  

Many regional experts doubt that longtime official Pakistani links to certain militant groups have been severed, particularly those maintained by the country’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. But Jilani insisted that the longtime perception of Pakistan differentiating between “good” and “bad” militants is outdated.

Jilani also expressed support for President Obama’s policy of avoiding the use of words like “Islamic” and “Muslim” to describe the violent extremism that is surging in parts of the world.

Around the world “only a small number of Muslims ... engage in such activities,” so it would be unfair and counterproductive “to paint the entire community with the broad brush” of extremism, he said. “This is not activity exclusive to any religion.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that many countries, including Pakistan, need to do more to counter the influence of radical extremists. Jilani said the Pakistani government is considering hosting a regional conference on best practices for tackling radical influences as part of Mr. Obama’s global initiative on countering violent extremism.

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