By Associated Press Writer
updated 9/25/2009 6:39:18 AM ET 2009-09-25T10:39:18

Pakistan's doubts about U.S. commitment to the Afghan war make it less likely to cooperate in targeting Taliban commanders said to be directing the insurgency across the border.

Pakistan has been ambivalent about the militants, sometimes trying to enlist them as potential allies in case they take control again in neighboring Afghanistan — a prospect many here believe is getting closer.

This country's role in the war is in sharp focus as President Barack Obama publicly questions the strategy he pushed last winter of building up U.S. forces in Afghanistan to fight a revitalized Taliban. The top U.S. commander recently warned that NATO could lose the war.

Searching for alternatives to sending still more troops, the White House is now considering a strategy championed by Vice President Joe Biden that focuses on stepped-up missile attacks by unmanned U.S. drones against al-Qaida and Taliban targets on the Pakistani side of the border.

To be effective, such attacks require Pakistani intelligence.

Scores of militant commanders killed
The Pakistanis are believed to have withheld intelligence for years about key suspects in the Afghan Taliban, but the U.S. has been making progress in recent months securing their cooperation against certain targets. Although many of these militants were primarily trying to overthrow the Pakistani government, some also had close ties with fighters in Afghanistan.

More than 70 such attacks have killed scores of ranking militant commanders since last year, including Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. On Thursday, a missile strike near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan killed four people, Pakistani officials said. The Pakistani government routinely issues statements of protest, even though these strikes are widely believed to take place with its support.

U.S. and NATO officials have long believed that much of the direction, manpower, money and weapons fueling the Afghan insurgency comes from across the border in Pakistan — particularly Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who is thought to be based close to the city of Quetta in Baluchistan province, and the network commanded by Siraj Haqqani in the Waziristan tribal areas.

American officials and many analysts allege that Pakistan's powerful spy agency is either protecting, tolerating or actively supporting those groups because they do not pose a direct threat to the Pakistani state and may be useful allies in ensuring that a pro-Pakistan, anti-India regime takes power in Afghanistan when the Americans leave.

Pakistan has fought three wars against India and still considers it the country's main threat. India has tried to forge close ties with Kabul and has established consulates in several Afghan cities. Pakistan does not want to see a pro-New Delhi regime on its western flank if the Americans withdraw.

While nominally a parliamentary democracy, Pakistan's army generals and intelligence chiefs in practice still control defense policy and to some extent foreign policy.

Less incentive for Pakistan authorities?
With talk of NATO pulling out of Afghanistan, an increasingly potent Taliban threat and rising questions in the U.S. about whether defeating the insurgency is possible, there is even less incentive for the Pakistani authorities to share intelligence on Haqqani and Omar, said Shaun Gregory, a professor at Bradford University's Pakistan Security Research Unit.

"The Pakistanis want the Americans out; above all they want India out. And the only creatures who can do that are the Afghan Taliban," he said. "If the Pakistanis hand over more info on al-Qaida and the rest, it will have a marginal effect as to what happens in Afghanistan."

The Pakistanis have not supplied the U.S. with any intelligence on the Haqqani network, Gregory said. In return, Haqqani and other Afghan Taliban have not joined their Pakistani Taliban brethren in trying to seize other regions and advance on the capital, Islamabad.

"They don't want to antagonize several groups in Pakistan. If the Haqqani group starts helping the Pakistani Taliban, then God help us," said Talat Masood, a Pakistani defense analyst. "The Americans cannot stay in Afghanistan forever, but we will have to live here forever."

‘Different priorities’
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, said in a recent interview with McClatchy Newspapers that Pakistan had "different priorities" than America in this regard and was "reluctant to take action" against the leadership of the Afghan insurgency.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official, however, insisted the spy agencies of Pakistan were sharing intelligence with the CIA about militants operating both here and in Afghanistan, including the Haqqani network.

"The CIA knows about our role, but we don't want to highlight it through the media," said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the requirements of his job.

In the past, Pakistani officials have pointed to the several al-Qaida commanders the country has handed over to the United States and ongoing military campaigns against insurgents that cost many Pakistani lives.

Pakistan has claimed several successes in the fight against the Pakistani Taliban in recent months, including a widely praised offensive against insurgents in the Swat Valley.

Priority to battling groups
But at the very least, the army and the intelligence agencies give priority to battling groups fighting the Pakistani state rather than those who direct their energies toward U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

There is little government or military control in Pakistan's remote, mountainous border region. Al-Qaida's top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, may be hiding in the area, and militants move freely across the border.

U.S. missiles are believed to be fired from unmanned drones launched from Afghanistan or from a base inside the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. American officials generally do not acknowledge the attacks.

The strikes are unpopular among nationalist and Muslim politicians and activists, but they have become so routine that they attract little media attention or public protest in Pakistan these days.

Still, an increase in attacks — or strikes outside the semiautonomous areas where they have so far taken place — could turn the public against Pakistan's government at a time when its popularity is already low. Critics would surely paint Pakistani leader Asif Ali Zardari, who met with Obama in New York on Thursday, as an American lackey.

More on: Pakistan | Afghanistan

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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