Pak lobbying to block US military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014

Islamabad, Sept 15(ANI): Pakistan has begun secret diplomatic manoeuvres to forge a consensus among regional countries to thwart the United States' plan to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan beyond the stipulated 2014 deadline, according to a news report.

Pakistan has stepped up efforts to take China, Iran, Russia and other neighbours of the war-torn country on board to "convince or force" the US to abandon the region by 2014, The Express Tribune reports.

Back-to-back trips by top Pakistani political and military leaders in recent months were all part of Islamabad's diplomacy to seek support from countries bordering Afghanistan, the paper said, attributing to sources.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has just returned from Iran, while President Asif Ali Zardari has visited Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, China and Tajikistan over the past two months.

The Pakistan Army's Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Waheed Arshad was also in Beijing for a week two months ago, with officials in Islamabad saying that his visit was "part of the security establishment's manoeuvres to get China on its side".

There was a consensus, by and large, among all regional states, including China and Iran, that any solution in Afghanistan should envisage a complete US troops drawdown from the war-hit nation, officials familiar with these developments were quoted as saying by the paper.

"Discussions in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and Islamabad right now are focusing on how these regional players should take a lead role in the transition in Afghanistan," a Foreign Ministry official said.

According to diplomatic authorities, Iran is ready to accept a Taliban comeback into the Kabul administration, but wants to restrict their presence to the southeast of the country, while China also considered them a "lesser evil" compared to US presence in their "backyard", the paper said.

The prime minister's spokesperson, Akram Shaheedi, refused to divulge any information when asked whether Pakistan was opposed to America prolonging its presence in Afghanistan. "I can neither confirm nor deny this," he said, adding, "It is a difficult question to answer... only the Foreign Office can explain Islamabad's official stance on it."

President Zardari's spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that Pakistan understands that regional countries could be in a better position to decide how to fight terrorism than "those sitting thousands of miles away". (ANI)