- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2010

Fears about a premature U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan have created tension in the United States’ relationship with India and reinforced the Pakistani military’s strategy of supporting terrorist groups in the region, Sen. John McCain said on Friday.

“Afghanistan has become a major source of tension between the U.S. and India for the primary reason that India does not believe that we will stay until the job is done,” Mr. McCain said in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The Arizona Republican said it was important for the U.S. to address this concern head-on.

Mr. McCain spoke just before leaving for a trip to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Describing the U.S. relationship with Pakistan as one in which broader strategic interests are not entirely aligned, Mr. McCain said nothing the United States has done since Sept. 11, 2001, has changed the basic strategic calculus of the Pakistani army.

“When compelled, it is willing to fight terrorist groups that threaten Pakistan, but not related groups that threaten Afghanistan, India and increasingly America as well,” he said.

The senator said some in Pakistan’s army and intelligence service continue to support these terrorist groups as a tool of influence. “A belief that America will withdraw prematurely from Afghanistan has only reinforced the Pakistani military’s inclination to hedge its bets,” he added.

The Obama administration will conduct a review of its policies in Afghanistan in December.

Mr. McCain said if the U.S. quits Afghanistan “before positive conditions can be shaped and sustained on the ground, the consequences will certainly be terrible for us but they will be even worse for India, which will have a terrorist safe haven on its periphery.”

He said such a situation would deepen India’s reliance on Russia and Iran, which would damage the U.S.-India relationship.

“I can think of few more immediate ways to damage the U.S.-India relationship and to convince India that the U.S. is both a declining power and unreliable partner than for us to pull out of Afghanistan before achieving our goals,” Mr. McCain said.

In a conference call with reporters this week, Robert D. Blackwill, who served as ambassador to India in the George W. Bush administration, said India is extremely anxious that the U.S. will forge a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say reconciliation and reintegration efforts with the Taliban in Afghanistan are an Afghan-led process and to qualify terrorists must lay down their arms, cut ties to al Qaeda and abide by the Afghan Constitution.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently told reporters that no “high-level” talks were taking place with the Taliban.

But, he added, “there has been an increase in the number of people who have fought with the Taliban who have been reaching out, picking up the phone metaphorically or literally and calling up people and saying, ‘I’ve had enough of this war. I’d like to talk to you.’ “

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