- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The U.S.-led international coalition is losing the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan because it has failed to win over the Afghan people, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said in a grim assessment of the war this week.

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde during a visit to Paris, Mr. Zardari said the coalition “underestimated the situation on the ground and was not conscious of the scale of the problem.”

“The international community, to which Pakistan belongs, is losing the war against the Taliban. This is above all because we have lost the battle to conquer the heart and soul,” Mr. Zardari said.

The interview was published in Wednesday’s editions of Le Monde but was posted online on Tuesday.

“The success of the insurgents has been to know how to wait. They have time on their side,” Mr. Zardari said. “The whole approach seems wrong to me. The population does not associate the presence of the coalition with a better future.”

He said the Taliban had no chance of regaining power in Afghanistan, but contended that the militants’ “grip is strengthening.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rejected Mr. Zardari’s assessment.

“I don’t think [President Obama] would agree … with President Zardari’s conclusion that the war is lost,” Mr. Gibbs said.

He said the “hearts and minds of those in Afghanistan and Pakistan are obviously a key part of out strategy.”

“[I] think it is safe to say that the actions and the efforts that the coalition, international forces and American forces, have taken over the last several months have very much the hearts and minds of the Afghan people at the forefront,” he added.

On a visit to India last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that some elements in Pakistan were looking both ways when it came to the Taliban.

Mr. Cameron said the international community must not “tolerate in any sense the idea that [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able in any way to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world.”

Mr. Zardari said in a statement that it was “unfortunate that certain individuals continue to express doubts and fears about our determination to fight militants to the end.”

He will meet Mr. Cameron in London on Friday.

When asked by Le Monde what he would tell Mr. Cameron, Mr. Zardari replied: “I will explain face to face that it is my country that is paying the highest price in human life for this war.”

“The war against terrorism must unite us and not oppose us,” Mr. Zardari said, noting that he had not canceled his visit to London “in spite of this serious breach” by the British prime minister.

“The relations between our two countries are old and strong enough for that,” he said.

But Mr. Cameron has shown no sign of backing down.

“I gave a pretty clear and frank answer to a clear and frank question,” the British prime minister told BBC radio on the eve of Mr. Zardari’s visit.

“I don’t regret that at all,” he said. “We have to work with them to close down the terror networks that are in Pakistan that … have threatened innocent people all over the world.”