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Pakistan seeks clarity on U.S. surge plan

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani defends his country's efforts in fighting terrorism and declines to explicitly endorse Barack Obama's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Britain Pakistan
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, left, and Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani attend a press conference at Downing Street, London, on Thursday. Gilani says Pakistan is looking into the implications of the troop surge announced by President Barack Obama.Andy Rain / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan's prime minister on Thursday defended his country's efforts in fighting terrorism, saying he didn't believe Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan and that Pakistani security forces had been successful in tackling terrorism within the country's borders.

Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was meeting with his British counterpart Gordon Brown in London, was responding to Brown's demands earlier that Pakistan needed to do more to find bin Laden.

"I doubt the information which you are giving is correct because I don't think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan," Gilani said at a joint news conference.

"Pakistan is fighting the war on terrorism, and we have a good intelligence and defense cooperation with the United States," he said, adding that the U.S. and Britain have not provided any actionable intelligence about bin Laden's purported whereabouts.

Gilani also signaled his country's cautious response to President Barack Obama's new policy for Pakistan and Afghanistan by declining to endorse the U.S.-led troop surge. He said his government needs more information about Obama's plan to expand the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and at the same time increase aid to Pakistan.

Gilani said Pakistan was looking into the policy announced by Obama on Tuesday, including the suggestion that more covert CIA resources would be deployed in Pakistan, where the central government faces a strong threat from Islamic extremists.

"Regarding the new policy of President Obama, we are studying that policy," Gilani said. "We need more clarity on it, and when we get more clarity on it, we can see what we can implement on that plan."

Playing off both sides?
Unlike Brown, who strongly supports Obama's approach and is sending 500 more British troops to Afghanistan to augment the surge, Pakistani leaders had remained silent until Gilani's carefully worded comments.

Analysts said the lack of a public endorsement of U.S. policy is in part a response to rising anti-American sentiment in Pakistan that prevents national leaders from publicly embracing expanded U.S. aid — even if they need the support.

Since 2001, the U.S. has given the Pakistani army billions of dollars to try to get it to fight Islamic militants along the Afghan border. Starting last year, the U.S. began a sustained program of covert missile strikes against militant targets close to the border.

The results have been mixed. While the army has taken on the Pakistani Taliban, it has failed to go after Afghan Taliban leaders who base their operations in the tribal areas in the border region. At the same time, anti-Western sentiment, spurred by the security forces, has grown.

Many Western officials and analysts believe Pakistan is playing off both sides — accepting U.S. funds to crack down on Pakistani militants while tolerating the Afghan Taliban in the expectation that the radical Islamic movement will take power in Afghanistan once the Americans withdraw.

Shaun Gregory, an expert on Pakistani security at the University of Bradford in Britain, said the Pakistanis will take note of Obama's pledge to start bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan in July 2011.

"The Pakistanis are smart enough to read the signals coming out of Washington," Gregory said. "It seems to me that the army's longer-term strategy of broadly backing the Afghan Taliban is paying off now. They have their tails up."

Pressured on terrorism
Gilani said his government expects to learn more about U.S. plans when Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visit Pakistan.

Gilani has been lukewarm to the idea of a troop surge, saying he fears it would merely push Afghan militants across the mountainous border region into Pakistan.

The U.S. and Britain have been putting pressure on Pakistan to root out the militants already on its side of the border, in a lawless area from which they frequently attack NATO and Afghan troops.

Senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have castigated Pakistan for its failure to find al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, believed by many to be hiding in tribal regions of Pakistan.

Gilani stressed Thursday that Pakistan has been "extremely successful" in tackling terrorism and that most Taliban terrorists are not in Pakistan but in neighboring Afghanistan.