Pakistan pushback: US is 'shifting blame' for Afghan insurgency

In India, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Pakistan to do more in taking on radical Islamist groups, including handing over Hafiz Saeed, thought to have had a role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP
In this Monday, May 7, photo, Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, the commander of the Pakistani Army’s crucial Peshawar Corps, smiles during an interview with The Associated Press in Peshawar, Pakistan.

If nations had Facebook pages, then India and the United States would list their status as “in a relationship.” Pakistan would write, “it’s complicated.”

In an interview with the Associated Press this weekend, Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, the commander of the Pakistani Army’s crucial Peshawar Corps, admitted that his country could do more to go after violent groups in his country, but complained that the US is scapegoating Pakistan for its own problems in Afghanistan.

”Why do they raise their fingers toward Pakistan? It is shifting the blame to others,” General Rabbani told the AP. ”Is Afghanistan free of Taliban? It has hundreds of thousands of them.”

The interview comes as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits New Delhi to confirm aspects of the growing US strategic partnership with India over global trade, security matters, and how to wean India off of Iranian oil.

While in New Delhi, Ms. Clinton said that the US and India would “keep pushing” Pakistan to do more in taking on radical Islamist groups, including handing over Hafiz Saeed, founder of a Pakistani-based militant group that is believed to have carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

"We're well aware that there [have] not yet been the steps taken by the Pakistani government to do what both India and the United States have repeatedly requested," Clinton said at a town-hall-style meeting in Kolkata during the weekend. "And we're going to keep pushing that point. So it's a way of raising the visibility and pointing out to those who are associated with him that there is a cost for that."

'It's complicated'

If America’s relationship with India has turned a corner to become strategic partnership, America’s relationship with Pakistan has been “complicated” for quite a while.

During the cold war, Pakistan was a trusted front-line ally against Soviet expansion into Afghanistan. But when the cold war ended, Washington withdrew from the region, and Pakistan’s proxy groups fighting in Afghanistan turned their sights on other matters, from fighting Indian control over Kashmir – a border state that both India and Pakistan claim – to internal Pakistani disputes.

When the Sept. 11 attacks brought US attention back to Pakistan, it was clear things had changed in the US-Pakistani relationship. Then-President George W. Bush gave Pakistan an ultimatum to join the US in its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda or to be considered an enemy, and Pakistan complied. But Pakistan’s compliance itself has had limits.

Now, when Pakistan does throw the full force of its military into clearing out militant groups from their bases in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border, those operations have had a heavy cost. 

In a briefing to parliamentarians in October 2011, Pakistan's director general of military operations, Major Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, said that some 3,097 soldiers were killed and 781 permanently injured in the decade-long war against terror. As for the total killed: More than 35,000 Pakistanis have died in the past 11 years of the conflict. 

Indeed, even simple occupation carries a cost. Just this weekend, militants overran a Pakistani military post in the border area of North Waziristan, capturing and killing 14 Pakistani soldiers, beheading 13 of them, and putting some of the soldiers’ heads on polls in the bazaar of Miramshah.

Rabbani says Pakistan will not be intimidated, but will carry out its operations in a methodical way, ensuring that other areas are secure before moving into a new front.

"Something has to be done, and it's in the offing," said Rabbani, who has 150,000 soldiers and paramilitary forces under his command all along the northwest region of Pakistan. "North Waziristan is the only region we haven't cleared. It should be done as early as possible."

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