MANAMA // US General David Petraeus says that Pakistan needs to put pressure on the leadership of Afghan Taliban operating inside its borders if long-term progress is to be made in Afghanistan. "(To make) the really significant progress in Afghanistan that will be necessary over time ... it would be very helpful if additional pressure could be put (by Pakistan) on the leadership of the elements that are causing problems in Afghanistan," the head of the US Central Command told reporters on the sidelines of the sixth Manama Dialogue security conference.
President Barack Obama's administration has pressed Islamabad to act against Taliban and al Qa'eda sanctuaries inside its borders, saying that success in Afghanistan depended on disrupting cross-border safe havens. When asked about Mr Petraeus' comment, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, also in Bahrain for the security summit, said: "We have put in a lot of pressure. And we intend to continue to do that.
"Just look at the operation in South Waziristan," he said. "Something like 600 Taliban people and miscreants were eliminated in this push." Mr Petraeus praised Pakistani operations including that in South Waziristan, but said they mainly focused on Pakistani, not Afghan, Taliban groups. Mr Qureshi responded: "For us, a terrorist is a terrorist, whether he operates on this side of the border or that side of the border."
The Centcom chief said Pakistan's forces have been "quite impressive" against primarily Pakistani Taliban forces, fuelled by the realisation that extremist groups inside the country pose a significant threat. "There was a recognition by all the Pakistani leaders ... that the main threat to the very writ of Pakistani governance was the internal extremist threat," Mr Petraeus said. "That recognition is of considerable importance because it was that that has supported the Pakistani military and Frontier Corps in conducting some quite impressive operations" against extremists, primarily the Pakistani Taliban.
Mr Petraeus also said he thinks there is potential to form alliances with local forces in Afghanistan along the lines of the Sahwa or Awakening groups - called the Sons of Iraq by the US military - in Iraq. "Is there potential for this? We think so," he said. "There are actually some initiatives that have been launched in that regard, they're under the heading of CDI (Community Defence Initiative).
"It essentially involves small Special Forces teams that have members who know the language, culture and area, and basically live in the village with the people and seek to involve them and empower them in the maintenance of their own security." Mr Petraeus also sounded a note of caution. "This is not quite the same as the Sons of Iraq. This is more of a village by village and valley by valley" approach, rather than along wider tribal lines as was the case in Iraq.