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Pakistan to Welcome Delay in US Pullout From Afghanistan: Envoy

WASHINGTON: As US President Barack Obama discussed the final withdrawal of his troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan has indicated that it would welcome any delay in the expected pullout.

A slowing of the timetable for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan “would be viewed very positively in Pakistan”, said the country’s envoy to Washington.

In an interview to Christian Science Monitor, Jalil Abbas Jilani also said the drawdown of US troops from eastern Afghanistan had caused an increase in militant activity along the Pak-Afghan border.

‘Military forced to deploy additional troops along Pak-Afghan border’

On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama met his Defence Secretary Ashton Carter at the Oval Office and discussed the drawdown and other issues with him.

He told reporters after the meeting that this was his first meeting with the new defence secretary since he returned from his first visit to Afghanistan last week.

Mr Obama received “an extensive debriefing” from Mr Carter, who gave him “some impressions about how we’re planning our drawdown and transition in Afghanistan”, he said.

In his breakfast meeting with the Monitor’s editorial staff, Ambassador Jilani said the Pakistani military was forced to carry out a “surge” of its troops along the border with Afghanistan “over the last several months” as the departure of US troops led to an increase in cross-border militant activity.

The increased deployment of troops, from 145,000 to about 177,000, meant that fewer soldiers were available to carry out the counter-militant offensive in North Waziristan.

Under the current plan, the US intends to withdraw half of the 10,000 US troops by the end of this year, while the remaining 5,000 would be called back by the end of 2016.

The plan could be announced when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits the White House later this month.

Ambassador Jilani said the offensive under way in North Waziristan had been a “huge success” as Pakistan had already cleared 90 per cent of the territory of militant groups.

He said the military would soon “go after” the remaining 10 per cent unsecured territory.

He said the Haqqani Network had also been “completely disrupted” and had not carried out any recent attacks in North Waziristan.

Mr Jilani insisted that the long-time perception of Pakistan differentiating between “good” and “bad” militants was outdated.

He also expressed support for President Obama’s policy of avoiding the use of words like “Islamic” and “Muslim” to describe violent extremism.

“Only a small number of Muslims … engage in such activities,” so it would be unfair and counterproductive “to paint the entire community with the broad brush” of extremism, he said.

“This is not activity exclusive to any religion.”

But he acknowledged that countries like Pakistan needed to do more to counter the influence of radical extremists.

Mr Jilani said the Pakistani government might host a regional conference on how to tackle radical influences as part of Mr Obama’s global initiative on countering violent extremism.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2015

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