ISI engaged in 'strategic hedging' in Afghanistan: Pentagon


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Mar 24, 2009
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Accusing the ISI of engaging in "strategic hedging" and "playing both sides" in Afghanistan, top Pentagon officials have said that getting rid of the al-Qaida "safe haven" in Pakistan is the "top priority" for the US to win the war against terrorism in the region.

The Pakistani intelligence agency is "playing both sides", US defence secretary Robert Gates said, adding that though Islamabad has committed itself to be part of the US-led war against terrorism in the region, it continues to maintain links with the extremist elements.

"Look, their maintaining of contact with this group, in my view, is a strategic hedge," Gates told the CBS news responding to a question that parts of Pakistan's ISI was still supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"They (Pakistanis) are not sure who's going to win in Afghanistan. They're not sure what's going to happen along that border area. So to a certain extent they play both sides," Gates said.

This is not for the first time that a top US leader has made such an observation.

US leaders in the past several months have openly expressed concern that the Pakistan Army, especially its ISI, has been maintaining contacts with the Taliban and al-Qaida leaders and providing them support against the US-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, another top Pentagon official said there is a need to exert continued pressure on Pakistan's tribal belt to defeat terrorist outfits like al-Qaida and the Taliban.

"I think the long-range piece with Pakistan is to continue to put pressure on the Federally Administered Tribal Area and North West Frontier Province in a way that eventually puts us in a position to be able to defeat al-Qaida," Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Mullen said there is growing insurgency in Pakistan, where the al-Qaida leadership lives. "So the key in the strategy is to defeat al-Qaida."

"They're living in Pakistan and being protected by the Pakistanis...., the Taliban in particular. So we must do that," he said.

Getting rid of the safe haven for al-Qaida in Pakistan is the top priority for the US strategy in the region, he said.

Referring to the ongoing Pakistani military action against the militants in the Swat valley, Mullen said this action needs to be sustained. "In the past, this has not been the case," he said.

Mullen said that he was concerned about the peace deal in Swat, which did not work.

"I was very concerned about the Swat deal that was made a couple of months ago, that obviously didn't work," he said referring to the now defunct peace deal signed between the NWFP government and Pakistani Taliban in Swat.

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