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US shift poses risk to Pak

From multibillion-dollar military aid to stealthy, and secretive drone strikes, Pakistan, perhaps even more than Afghanistan, has been the focus of the United States' 12-year war on Islamist militancy.

world Updated: May 27, 2013 02:23 IST

From multibillion-dollar military aid to stealthy, and secretive drone strikes, Pakistan, perhaps even more than Afghanistan, has been the focus of the United States' 12-year war on Islamist militancy.

Now, as US President Barack Obama's landmark policy speech on Thursday made clear, all of that is changing. Drone strikes are dwindling, the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close and the battle against al Qaeda is receding.

Obama announced that US drones will attack only militants who pose an imminent threat to his country, virtually ruling out strikes against the Pakistani Taliban, whose stated goal is the creation of an Islamist caliphate in Pakistan.

The diminution of the drone campaign may ease a major point of friction between Pakistan and the West, but the tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan, where about 360 drone strikes have landed in the past decade, remains a hotbed of Islamist militancy, largely outside government control. Although many senior leaders of al Qaeda sheltering there have been felled by CIA missiles, they have been largely replaced by committed Pakistani jihadists with ties that span the border with Afghanistan.

With US combat troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014, and the drone campaign already winding down in Pakistan, analysts fear that unless the Pakistani Army can assert itself conclusively, the tribal region could be plunged into deeper chaos.

"It's going to be a lot of trouble," said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a Pakistani academic and defense analyst. "If the insurgency increases in Afghanistan, it will spill into Pakistan's tribal areas, where the Taliban will become very confident."

After 2001, Gen Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup, established himself as a steadfast ally of the West; it underwrote his authoritarian rule, which lasted until 2008. The military received almost $17 billion in US military aid, and transfers of US military hardware, solidifying its position as the dominant arm of the state. That relationship has also fostered resentment, and some Pakistani leaders welcome an American disengagement.

"Less American involvement is good, not bad," said Hina Rabbani Khar, who served as foreign minister in the last government, and who said she warmly welcomed the tone of Obama's speech on Thursday.