A KEY plank of the US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan was in danger of giving way last night after a refusal by Pakistan to take on a Taliban commander who is considered one of the gravest threats to Western forces.
Pakistan has ignored US demands that it expand its military operation against Islamist militants to target strongholds of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of a legendary Mujaheddin commander.
The standoff may mean an intensified campaign of American drone strikes in North Waziristan, US officials have warned.
A senior Pakistani security official said any confrontation with Haqqani could create more problems for the overstretched Pakistani army, engaged in running battles with militants in neighbouring South Waziristan and other tribal regions.
"We cannot fight on so many fronts," the official said. Any escalation by the US would be disastrous. "We have drawn a red line and would not accept any cross-border strikes by US forces."
The proposal was first outlined last month in a letter from Mr Obama to President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, hand-delivered by General Jim Jones, his National Security Adviser. US intelligence believed that Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's military spy agency, has maintained links with Haqqani because of his ability to project Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.
Reports yesterday said Mr Zardari resisted the direct appeal from Mr Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the US to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.
In a written response to the letter from Mr Obama, Mr Zardari said his government was determined to take action against al-Qa'ida, the Taliban and allied insurgent groups attacking US forces in Afghanistan from the border area inside Pakistan. But, he said, Pakistan's efforts would be based on its own timeline and operational needs, The Washington Post reported.
General David Petraeus, the senior US military officer in the region, reiterated the importance of targeting Haqqani in a meeting this week with General Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistani military.
But General Kayani told General Petraeus that the US should not expect "a major operation in North Waziristan".