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US seeks greater role for India
Cannot settle Afghanistan without your help: Holbrooke
Ashok Tuteja/Tribune News Service

An armed Pakistani Taliban stands beside the body of a cop killed in Buner district in Pakistan on Tuesday.
An armed Pakistani Taliban stands beside the body of a cop killed in Buner district in Pakistan on Tuesday. — Reuters photo

New Delhi, April 8
The US today sought to quell speculation that it was nudging India to resume the composite dialogue process with Pakistan and asserted that the Afghanistan problem could not be resolved without New Delhi’s active assistance.

“We are not here to negotiate India-Pakistan relations,” US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said at a joint press conference with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US.

Holbrooke and Mullen were here on the final leg of their tour of the region, which also took them to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to ascertain the views of the regional players on the new Af-Pak strategy rolled out by US President Barack Obama recently before Washington begins its implementation.

The visiting US officials had “terrific” meetings with National Security Adviser MK Narayanan, foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Prime Minister’s special envoy SK Lambah. Mullen is understood to have separately met Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chief of the naval staff and chairman of the Indian chiefs of staff committee.

The visit came amid reports that the US wanted India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue process, paused since the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, and lessen tension on their borders. India has, however, made it clear that there was no question of resuming the dialogue with Pakistan until it punished those behind the Mumbai attacks.

Emphasising that regional problems needed regional solutions, Mullen described India as a leader in the region, adding: “We want to understand problems through your eyes and seek your counsel.”

Asked if the US had asked India to reduce the level of troops along the border with Pakistan for the success of its Af-Pak strategy, Holbrooke’s remarked: “I can reply in one word - No”.

However, he did not give a straight reply when asked if the US proposed to enter into a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan. “The subject did not come up during our trip (to Islamabad),” he stated.

The US officials stressed that what happened in Afghanistan depended largely on the events in Pakistan. “For the first time, India, Pakistan and the US face a common threat, a common challenge and have a common task.”

Lauding the role being played by India in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, Holbrooke said Washington proposed to coordinate with New Delhi in the reconstruction activities in the war-ravaged nation.

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Taliban to take war to Islamabad

Mingora (Pakistan), April 8
Pakistani Taliban are moving into a new area in northern Pakistan, clashing with villagers and police in a mountain valley, police and district officials said on Wednesday. Separately, a Pakistani Taliban commander said the Pakistani military and the United States were colluding in US drone aircraft attacks and the militants would take their war to the capital, Islamabad, in response.

Surging militant violence across Pakistan is reviving Western concerns about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally. Pakistan is crucial to US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, were in Pakistan for talks on security strategy this week.

In a development that would deepen the West's concerns, scores of Taliban have moved into Buner district, 100 km north-west of Islamabad, from the Swat valley where authorities struck a peace pact in February aimed at ending violence.

“About 20 vehicles carrying Taliban entered Buner on Monday and started moving around the bazaar and streets," said senior police officer Israr Bacha.

Villagers formed a militia, known as a lashkar, to confront the Taliban and eight of the insurgents were killed in a clash on Tuesday, police said.

Two villagers and three policemen were also killed. “People don't like the Taliban,” Ghulam Mustafa, deputy chief of Buner, said.

A Taliban spokesman in Swat said, “What law stops us going there? Our people will go there and stay there as long as they want."

Authorities agreed in February to let Islamists impose Islamic law in Swat to end more than a year of fighting. Critics said appeasement would only embolden the militants to take over other areas. Pakistan's Western allies fear such pacts create safe havens for Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

Pakistani Taliban commander Mullah Nazeer Ahmed said in an interview with Al-Qaeda's media arm, Al-Sahab, that Pakistan was behind US drone attacks on militants. And that authorities were misleading the public by saying it was the US carrying out the strikes, he said.

“All these attacks that have happened and are still happening are the work of Pakistan," Ahmed said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on Al-Sahab's website.

Alarmed by deteriorating security in Afghanistan, the United States has since last year stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan though Islamabad objects to the strikes calling them a violation of its sovereignty that complicates its effort to fight militancy.

Other Taliban commanders said recent violence in Pakistan has been in retaliation for the drone attacks and threatened more.

Ahmed said Pakistani Taliban factions had united and would take their war to the capital: "The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen."

Ahmed also blamed ISI agency for sowing divisions between factions, saying the ISI was the Taliban's main enemy. Some US officials have said recently the ISI maintained contacts with militants and there were indications that ISI elements even provided support to the Taliban or Qaeda militants.

Such accusations have angered Pakistan, although a military spokesman denied reports that ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha had snubbed Holbrooke and Mullen by refusing to meet them on Tuesday.

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