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Pakistan fears Indian influence in Afghanistan, say US spy chiefs

The Trump administration is finalising a new policy for Afghanistan and the ongoing consultations in the White House have generated much interest in the US media and think-tanks.
PTI Washington May 29, 2017 23:00 IST
PTI

The US intelligence community has informed Congress that Pakistan does not want heavy Indian influence in Afghanistan and will likely turn to China to offset New Delhi's sway in Kabul, the media reported on Monday.

During a recent hearing on Afghanistan at the Senate Armed Services Committee, US intelligence chiefs assessed the situation in the war-torn country, and discussed Pakistan's interests in Kabul, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.

The Trump administration is finalising a new policy for Afghanistan and the ongoing consultations in the White House have generated much interest in the US media and think-tanks.

Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger recently suggested resuming air strikes on terrorist targets in Pakistan.

Observers in Washington said the Trump administration might do so if terrorists targeted US military personnel and installations in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan is concerned about international isolation and sees its position through the prism of India's rising status, including New Delhi's expanded foreign outreach and deepening ties to the US," said National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, who leads a team of more than a dozen spy agencies, including the CIA and FBI.

"Pakistan will likely turn to China to offset its isolation, empowering a relationship that will help Beijing to project influence in the Indian Ocean," the Dawn quoted Coats as saying.

Coats said Islamabad had failed to curb terrorists in Pakistan and because of this failure, "these groups will present a sustained threat to the US interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan".

"Pakistan desires for Afghanistan some of the same things we want: a safe, secure, stable Afghanistan. One addition — there is no have heavy Indian influence in Afghanistan," said Defence Intelligence Director Lt General Vincent Stewart.

"They view all of the challenges through the lens of an Indian threat to Pakistan. So they hold in reserve terrorist organisations... so that — if Afghanistan leans towards India, they will no longer be supportive of an idea of a stable and secure Afghanistan that could undermine Pakistan's interests," the General said.

Coats told the Senate committee that despite increased military efforts, the Taliban continues to make gains in Afghanistan.

Senator Joni Kay Ernst, an Illinois Republican, asked the intelligence chiefs to spell out the measures that the US would like Afghanistan's neighbours to take to help stabilise the region.

"I think certainly an evaluation of how we work with Pakistan to address the situation of the harbouring of terrorist groups would be essential to a strategy that affects Afghanistan," Coats replied.

"Because that is potentially a very disrupting situation, putting our own troops at risk and undermining the strategy of dealing with the Taliban and local groups that are trying to undermine the (Afghan) government," Coats said.

"Besides more troops, do we need to implement a different strategy on the ground in Afghanistan?" Senator Ernst asked General Stewart.

"We've got to convince Pakistan if they're harbouring any of the Haqqani network members that it is not in their interest to continue to host Haqqani network," Stewart said.

The General urged the Trump administration to work with Afghanistan's neighbours to go after the 20 terrorist organisations that were still active in the region. "They undermine not just Afghanistan, not just Pakistan, but all of the region."

Stewart also suggested "pushing" Pakistan to do more against the Haqqani network and urged US policymakers to "separate the Taliban from the Pashtun", because Pakistan wanted a Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan.

"So we've got to get the conversation going again with Pakistan about their role in not harbouring any of these terrorists, helping to stabilise Afghanistan," he said.

Stewart said he believed Pakistan still had some influence in bringing Taliban to the table. "So we've got to get them to think about reconciliation, that the status quo is not in their best interest."