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Pakistan to US: Don't surge in Afghanistan, talk to Taliban

Pakistan contradicts US Gen. McChrystal's strategy of pulling back from Afghanistan borders, and disagrees with the strategy of a surge to defeat the Taliban.

By Saeed ShahMcClatchy Newspapers / November 22, 2009

Islamabad, Pakistan

The Pakistani government has some advice the Obama administration may not want to hear as it contemplates sending additional US troops to neighboring Afghanistan: Negotiate with Taliban leaders and restrain India.

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Pakistan embraces US efforts to stabilize the region and worries that a hasty US withdrawal would create chaos. But Pakistani officials worry that thousands of additional American soldiers and Marines would send Taliban forces retreating into Pakistan, where they're not welcome.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's office said Friday that he told visiting CIA Director Leon Panetta of "Pakistan's concerns relating to the possible surge of the US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan which may entail negative implications for the situation in Baluchistan," the Pakistani province that borders Afghanistan to the south.

The Pakistanis' advice is almost diametrically opposed to the strategy outlined by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US military commander in Afghanistan: Don't send additional forces to protect Afghan cities, but send them to outposts along the Pakistani border — where McChrystal has withdrawn troops.

It's just one example of how Pakistan, a critical US ally in the struggle against Islamist extremists and a major recipient of American military aid, continues to deal differently with the violence that threatens not only the US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but also impoverished, nuclear-armed Pakistan.

The two countries' divergent views of the threat posed by Islamist extremists, and the Obama administration's efforts to press Pakistan to move against groups that menace Afghanistan have produced strains between the two countries and between Pakistan's civilian government and its powerful military and Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) — and a growing drumbeat of Pakistani allegations about alleged nefarious CIA activities in Pakistan.

"The Pakistanis say some things in public — often for reasons related to internal politics, it seems — that they don't focus on in private," said a senior US intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because intelligence matters are classified. "That's not to say that we see eye-to-eye on everything behind closed doors, but both sides realize that — whatever the disagreements of the moment might be — the long-term partnership is essential. After all, Pakistani contributions to counterterrorism since 9/11 have been decisive, and our government recognizes that."

Don't escalate, negotiate

Instead of escalating the war in Afghanistan, however, top Pakistani officials are pressing the administration to try to negotiate a political settlement with top Taliban commanders that would allow the US to exit Afghanistan.