Afghanistan, Pakistan rattled by US 2011 troop exit plan

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Islamabad, Dec.3 (ANI): President Barack Obama's timetable for deploying additional American forces in Afghanistan next summer and his decision to start withdrawing them from July 2011, has rattled both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to a report in the New York Times, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said the announcement that American troops could begin leaving in 18 months served as a kind of shock therapy, but caused anxiety.

"Can we do it?" he asked. "That is the main question. This is not done in a moment. It is a process."

In Pakistan, many have argued that the short timetable diminished any incentive for Pakistan to cut ties to Taliban militants who were its allies in the past, and whom Pakistan might want to use to shape a friendly government in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal.

"The most serious issue, as far as we see it, is the exit date," said a senior Pakistani security official who spoke anonymously because he was not allowed to speak publicly.

"It will have serious implications," he added.

Though American officials went out of their way to assure senior leaders of both countries of Washington's continued support, lower-ranking politicians and military or intelligence officials are sceptical.

Leaders in both countries, at least publicly, offered near silence or only a tepid embrace of the Obama plan on Wednesday.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, who has been lashed in the Pakistani media for being too close to the United States, did not comment on the speech. Neither did President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who has been smarting ever since he was forced to accept that he did not win the presidential election outright.

In Afghanistan, a statement from the presidential palace noted only that the government welcomed Obama's new strategy for the support it offered in development and training for Afghan institutions and in protecting the Afghan people.

It also commended the plan for the recognition that terrorists were operating in the region beyond Afghanistan's borders in Pakistan.

That acknowledgment was precisely what offended many in Pakistan, where the official reaction was limited to a short statement issued by the Foreign Office welcoming Obama's "reaffirmation of partnership."

Politicians, analysts and media commentators, meanwhile, filled the void with scepticism, concern or outright rejection of the Obama plan, and particularly its timetable.

"Is it in Pakistan's interest to antagonize the Afghan Taliban now, if they will be in power two or three years down the road?" said Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent Into Chaos."

He added: "Will the Americans actually deliver after the withdrawal, when the value of Pakistan decreases?"

"Pakistanis are not convinced that another military surge will address the issue," said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

"This is bombs and bullets bereft of a political strategy," she added.

Pakistani newspapers also struck a sceptical tone.

The News, acknowledged in an editorial that Obama was trying to change the substance of American-Pakistani relations, but said that the trust deficit was so deep that "it is unlikely that Islamabad will be more attentive to an apparently war-weary U.S. and NATO than it was to a fire-breathing

The Pakistani military sees India as the biggest threat in the region and is frustrated that the United States does not seem to acknowledge that.

This disconnect has been a major irritant in relations, particularly as Indian influence in Afghanistan grows. (ANI)

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