The departing American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill, has raised concerns that Pakistan has not followed through on promises to tackle militancy on its side of the border, and in recent months has even stopped its cooperation with NATO and Afghan counterparts on border issues.
McNeill said Thursday that Pakistan’s failure to act against militants in its tribal areas and its decision to hold talks with the militants without putting pressure on them had led to an increase in attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan.
“We have not seen the actions that we had expected late last year; we have seen a different approach,” he said before a news briefing in Kabul. “That is different from what most of us thought last year we were going to get.”
Militancy rose last year in Pakistan, where officials indicated that tougher measures against the insurgents were planned. Instead, the government has sued for peace, a policy tried in 2005 and 2006 that led directly to a rise in attacks across the border, as is happening now.
“Over time, when there has been dialogue, or peace deals, the incidents have gone up,” McNeill told journalists in Kabul and others in Brussels via videoconference. “What you see right now is the effects of no pressure on the extremists and insurgents on the other side of the border.”
As if to underscore his point, a suicide car bomb exploded Thursday near a convoy of international forces on the eastern side of Kabul, killing four civilian bystanders and wounding 14 others, police officials said.
McNeill said that Pakistan had stopped the high-level meetings among Pakistani, Afghan and NATO counterparts that were the main conduit for resolving border issues and coordinating operations to combat cross-border infiltration.
The meetings are usually attended by the top generals on all sides, but Pakistan has postponed the last three, he said.
“We have had some difficulty here,” he said, adding that he did not expect to conduct another meeting before handing over command in early June. But McNeill expressed hope that his successor, General David McKiernan, also of the United States, would be able to resume the meetings.
McNeill called the problem a “dysfunction” that he attributed to political changes in Pakistan since the election of a new government there in February.
McNeill said last year was “a very difficult year” for Pakistan and cited episodes of militancy including “a huge spike in suicide bombers, the Red Mosque events, some 250 Pakistani soldiers captured by about 20 militants, some forts laid siege to.” His reference to the Red Mosque was to a raid last summer by Pakistani forces after militants holed up inside.
“My connection is military to military,” the general said, “and I think they know in the Pakistani military this is an issue they have to take on, and they have to do it in a way that is consistent with counterinsurgency doctrine.
“But they have also just gone through some rather huge changes within their government and, I think, are still trying to find their way to get something coalesced, to get it congealed to where there is a forward movement in the business of governance,” he said.
Pakistan’s government has made clear it wants to break with the tactics President Pervez Musharraf has used against militants and instead try dialogue, political engagement and economic development of the tribal regions.
Yet there has been increasingly urgent criticism from Afghan and NATO officials here since attacks rose 50 percent in April over last year in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. forces were claiming success against insurgents.