US Preparing Possible 'Surge' in Afghanistan

19 March 2009

U.S. officials are considering several new strategies to try to reduce violence in Afghanistan and strengthen the country's government. plans include more diplomatic outreach as well as proposals for further expanding military strikes into Pakistan.  

While Iran regularly holds talks with Pakistani and Afghan leaders, it has not participated in discussions with the United States on the war in Afghanistan.

That could change on March 31, if Tehran accepts an invitation to join an international summit at The Hague.

Iran's Ambassador to Pakistan, Mashallah Shakiri, told reporters in Islamabad that his country is committed to being part of the solution in Afghanistan.  

"So far, at this date and time, I have no information if we have received any formal invitation from the organizers of that Hague summit," he said. "But if we receive that formal invitation, we would consider that positively."

Afghan officials have welcomed the idea of including Iran in the talks as well as U.S. proposals to speak with willing Taliban factions. But there is also strong interest in attacking Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. 

"As we always have said Afghanistan is a victim of terrorism, but the sources of the terrorists and their sanctuaries are on the other side of the border," said Sultan Ahmad Bahen, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry.
For more than eight years, U.S. drone aircraft have fired missiles at scores of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan's volatile tribal region.

All of the strikes have occurred in areas where Pakistan's military exerts little, if any control. And while the attacks have sparked public outrage and denunciations from officials, they are widely believed to have the consent of the Pakistani government.

There is also evidence they have grown more accurate in recent years. The New York T'mes
reports U.S. officials say they have killed nine of al-Qaida's 20 top leaders.
"It sends a very strong message to the local population that if you have dangerous guests, be prepared for very bad consequences," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political analyst and professor at Lahore University. "That is also the reason that some of these al-Qaida functionaries may have been kicked out of that region to other areas of Pakistan."

The New York Times reports some Taliban and al-Qaida leaders have fled south from the tribal regions to Baluchistan - Pakistan's largest and least populated province.  

Some of them are believed to have moved to the provincial capital Quetta, where Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his top deputies are thought to have lived since fleeing Afghanistan.  

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (file photo)
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (file photo)
Pakistani officials have reacted cautiously to suggestions the United States may expand drone attacks to Baluchistan. 

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters he continues to believe the disadvantages of the strikes outweigh the advantages.

"We have to convince them on the disadvantages. How it can be counterproductive," he said. "And at the same time improve our capacity for dealing with the insurgency and militancy."

Professor Rais says if Taliban and al-Qaida militants have relocated to Baluchistan, it could be a sign of desperation. He says the region's Baluch people have important ethnic and cultural differences from Pashtuns in the tribal belt that make them less willing to harbor militants. 

Professor Rais says expanding missile strikes also holds great risks for the already shaky Pakistani government, further weakened by this week's political battle over the judiciary.