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Pakistan Rejects Obama's AfPak Strategy

5:25 PM, Sep 10, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's rejection of President Obama's much-touted AfPak strategy is sure to be causing heartburn in the White House.

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, has rejected the Obama administration's strategy of linking policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to end a Taliban insurgency and bring stability to the region.

"Afghanistan and Pakistan are distinctly different countries and cannot be lumped together for any reason," Mr Zardari said in an interview with the Financial Times on the anniversary of his first year in office.

Barack Obama, US president, appointed Richard Holbrooke , a senior diplomat who helped end the Bosnian war, as his special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan this year in a move intended to address the two states as a single arena of conflict.

Mr Zardari's comments reflect Pakistan's unwillingness to be aligned in a joint policy framework with neighbouring Afghanistan, an approach referred to as "AfPak".

It is unclear how much of Zardari's statements are for local consumption, because, as the Financial Times states later in the article, the concept of the AfPak strategy is deeply unpopular.

President Obama's AfPak strategy has always been weak on the Pakistan side of the equation. It relies on the Pakistani government to do something it hasn't done since the Sept. 11 attacks -- take on the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal areas head on, and dismantle the terror groups that were started by its intelligence services. Pakistan has been playing a double game with the United States for years, extending a hand for aid while conducting half-hearted operations against the Taliban that only allowed the extremists to gain strength. There is little evidence much has changed, but the offensive against the Taliban in Swat bears watching.

It is unclear whether the powers that be in Pakistan -- powerful elements in the military, the Inter-Service Intelligence agency, and even some in government -- have rejected the strategy of strategic depth, where the Taliban and other extremists groups are either promoted or ignored so they can be kept in reserve against India and now in the event of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Just last year, as tension with India and Pakistan escalated in the aftermath of the terror assault on Mumbai, a Pakistan corps commander described then Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud as a "patriot". This is the same Taliban leader who directed the terror offensive against the military and government. The general was never relieved of command. And the military's refusal to take on Taliban leaders based in North and South Waziristan who are known to launch terror assaults in Afghanistan is also a worrying indication of the Pakistanis lack of commitment to rooting out the Taliban and al Qaeda.