Washington: As the United States gears up for withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan by 2014, Pakistan and its safe havens in the border areas pose a great challenge to the US, a former top American general based in Kabul has said.
"I think one of the great unknowns for us is Pakistan," Gen (rtd) John Allen, who till February was Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan told a Washington audience yesterday when asked on the US challenges in Afghanistan.
"It still remains the border area and the insurgency -- on both sides, frankly, of the border -- remains, I think, one of the principal obstacles and one of the principal potential sources of downturn for the campaign," Allen said in response to a question.
Noting that the US relationship with Pakistan is complex, Allen at the same time said there is promise there that he had not seen before.
"Conversations at a bilateral level have turned out to be promising, the potential for Afghans and Pakistanis to share both school seats, to exchange visitors," he said.
"We now have a Pakistani brigadier in the headquarters of ISAF," Allen said, listing this among the positive indicators.
According to the former US general, the Pakistani forces have been engaged in significant counterinsurgency operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
"I don`t think that Pakistan gets the credit that it is due in terms of the extent of the operations that it has undertaken, the casualties that it has suffered, the sacrifices that the Pakistani people are taking on any given day with respect to a regional outcome," he noted.
Allen said, of late, there has been real emphasis on Pakistan seeking a constructive, bilateral relationship with the Afghan national security forces.
However, he said that as this is relatively new, the task is not that easy. "It`s going to require some building because there are trust issues on both sides," he said.
"We`re seeing willingness by the Pakistani military to conduct complementary operations on each side of the border, which we did years ago, but they were frozen in time as a result of a variety of issues -- Abbottabad, the cross-border crisis and so on," he said.