Thursday, July 1, 2010

Paradigm shift in Pak-Afghan relations !

Pakistan scores a major victory in Pak-Afghan relations with the green signal to train Afghan troops.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to send a group of military officers to Pakistan for training, a significant policy shift that signals deepening relations between the long-wary neighbours, a major US newspaper reported.

“The move is a victory for Pakistan, which seeks a major role in Afghanistan,” the Washington Post said in a Kabul datelined report.

According to the report, 300 Afghan soldiers are currently being trained under bilateral agreements in other countries, including Turkey and India.

The report claimed officials in both countries have become increasingly convinced that the US war effort there is faltering.

Afghan officials said Karzai has begun to see Pakistan as a necessary ally in ending the war through negotiation with the Taliban or on the battlefield, the paper reported.

“This is meant to demonstrate confidence in Pakistan, in the hope of encouraging them to begin a serious consultation and conversation with us on the issue of the Taliban,” Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Karzai's national security adviser, said of the training agreement.

The previously unpublicised training would involve only a small group of officers, variously described as between a handful and a few dozen, but it has “enormous symbolic importance” as the first tangible outcome of talks between Karzai and Pakistan's military and intelligence chiefs that began in May.

Some key US officials involved in Afghanistan said they knew nothing of the arrangement.

“We are neither aware of nor have we been asked to facilitate training of the Afghan officer corps with the Pakistani military,” Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the Nato training command in Afghanistan, said.

Washington has spent $27 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces since 2002, and President Obama's war strategy calls for doubling the strength of both the army and police force there by October 2011 to facilitate the gradual departure of US troops.

This week, Gen. David H. Petraeus, confirmed Wednesday as the new US and Nato war commander, said the United States wants to “forge a partnership or further the partnership that has been developing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

In addition to taking military action against alleged Taliban sanctuaries inside its borders, Petraeus said, it is “essential” that Pakistan be involved “in some sort of reconciliation agreement” with the insurgents.

US officials are generally pleased with the rapprochement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the rapid progress of the talks has given some an uneasy feeling that events are moving outside US control.

While building Afghanistan's weak army is a key component of US strategy, more than 300 Afghan soldiers are currently being trained under bilateral agreements in other countries, including Turkey and India.

Pakistan has been pushing for months for a training deal, and Spanta said that a “limited” number of officers would be part of the new agreement. Details were still under discussion, but a senior Pakistani government official said the program was expected to begin “soon.”

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington and an advocate of a Pakistani training program, said the plan could expedite joint operations between the two militaries and reduce suspicions about Pakistan within the Afghan army.

“This is a major move,” Nawaz said. “It will have a powerful signalling effect in both countries.”

Analysts and officials see a broader thaw in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations over the past year. Pakistani scholarships have been accepted by a number of Afghan university students, and Pakistan is training Afghan civilian officials, Spanta said.

“We have seen a paradigm shift in the relationship,” said Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan. “And of course, both sides are benefiting from it.”