WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to expand and reorient its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, warning that failing to do so would undercut the new strategy and troop increase for Afghanistan that President Obama is preparing to approve, American officials say.
While Afghanistan has dominated the public discussion of Mr. Obama’s strategy, which officials say could be announced as early as this week, Pakistan is returning to center stage in administration planning. As the president traveled to Asia, his national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, was quietly sent to Islamabad, its capital.
His message, officials said, was that the new American strategy would work only if Pakistan broadened its fight beyond the militants attacking its cities and security forces and went after the groups that use havens in Pakistan for plotting and carrying out attacks against American troops in Afghanistan, as well as support networks for Al Qaeda.
General Jones praised the Pakistani operation in South Waziristan but urged Pakistani officials to combat extremists who fled to North Waziristan.
General Jones also delivered a letter from Mr. Obama to Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, in which Mr. Obama said he expected Mr. Zardari to rally the nation’s political and national security institutions in a united campaign against extremists threatening Pakistan and Afghanistan, said an official briefed on the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.
For their part, Pakistani officials have told the Americans that they harbor two deep fears about Mr. Obama’s new strategy: that the United States will add too many troops on the Afghan side of the border, and that the American effort will end too soon.
Their first concern, described by officials on both sides of the recent discussions, is that if Mr. Obama commits an additional 30,000 or more troops, it will inevitably push more Taliban fighters across the border into Pakistani territory and complicate the South Waziristan offensive.
Every time Mr. Obama declares that the United States will not have an “open-ended” military commitment in Afghanistan, he fuels a second concern of the powerful Pakistani military and intelligence establishment, which believes the United States commitment is fleeting.
It is a concern that some of them say justifies Pakistan’s continuing ties to the militants who fight American troops in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to fuel this concern on Sunday in her comments on the ABC program “This Week,” saying: “We’re not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We have no long-term stake there. We want that to be made very clear.”
White House officials have said comparatively little about the Pakistan side of the administration’s evolving war strategy, in part because they have so few options. They cannot place forces inside Pakistan, and they cannot talk publicly about the Central Intelligence Agency’s Predator drone strikes in the country, though they are so much of an open secret that Mrs. Clinton was asked about them repeatedly in meetings she held late last month with Pakistani students and citizens. (She refused to acknowledge the program’s existence.)
In his letter to Mr. Zardari, Mr. Obama offered a range of new incentives to the Pakistanis for their cooperation, including enhanced intelligence sharing and military cooperation, according to the official who had been briefed on the letter’s contents.
During Mr. Obama’s Situation Room briefings on his alternatives, those advocating a minimal commitment of new troops in Afghanistan have argued that the United States needs only enough forces to keep Al Qaeda “bottled up” in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan.
“You could argue that even under the status quo, we don’t see Al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan,” said one official sympathetic to this view. “And so an additional commitment of forces isn’t going to apply more pressure on our main target.”
Those arguing for a more forceful presence — including Mrs. Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen — have contended that while Afghanistan is not now a haven for Al Qaeda, it could easily become one if the Taliban make further inroads.
American officials have praised Pakistan’s leaders for finally launching comprehensive military attacks against Taliban forces that have conducted suicide bombings in the capital, on the military headquarters and last week against a key office of the main Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
But the Americans are now trying, as the Bush administration did with little success, to persuade Pakistan to do more, not just against the Qaeda leadership holed up in the country’s unruly tribal areas, but also against the Afghan Taliban leadership in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta and the Haqqani militant network in the tribal areas.
Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence and who visited Pakistan last week, summed up the administration’s frustrations and her own after meetings with senior Pakistani officials: “They are focused on who they think are threats to them. Period.”
A recurring theme in Mrs. Clinton’s visit to Pakistan was the perception that the United States and NATO forces are drawing down troops along the Afghan border with Pakistan. This, Pakistani officials said, allows Afghan militants to pour across the border into South Waziristan, where they become Pakistan’s problem.
Mrs. Clinton argued that NATO had actually increased troop levels along that border but had decided to consolidate about a half-dozen remote outposts into fewer, larger installations, because they were easier to defend. According to American military officials, the Pakistani military got no warning of the change.
So great was the Pakistani concern over the outpost closures that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, made a special point during an unannounced trip to Islamabad after Mrs. Clinton’s visit to reassure Pakistani officials of American resolve.
“We’re stuck between not wanting to suggest we’re going to be there forever, but on the other hand, if we don’t show some kind of commitment, everyone continues to play the same game,” a senior administration official said Sunday. “That’s the challenge.”
If Pakistanis voice concerns about a lack of American commitment, they express equal concern that sending tens of thousands more American troops to Afghanistan could force Taliban militants into Pakistan.
“Whatever we do — put in more troops or put in fewer troops — they’ll freak out,” said an American intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his relations with Pakistani officials. But the intelligence officer acknowledged that the long-term security picture and the American commitment in Afghanistan were still unclear. “Look, if I were in Pakistan, I’d be hedging my bets, too,” the officer said. “We need to be much more convincing that we have a better game plan.”