Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Behind volatile U.S.-Pakistan ties : the Afghan endgame ?
Pakistan’s anger over U.S. drone strikes in its northwest region is unabated and this weekend protesters sat on a highway blocking convoys carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Disrupting supplies, including fuel trucks, can severely impair the huge war effort in Afghanistan and its the sort of escalatory action that will likely draw a swift response from the United States, one way or the other.
The question though is how have the two allies – reluctant partners as they have always been – come to such a stage in their relationship they appear to be inflicting more damage on each other than the Islamist militants they pledged to fight together.
Two Pakistan writers have suggested that this whole fight between the United States and Pakistan may not be about drones, but about Afghanistan and what happens there once America leaves. Pakistan wants the United States to concede to it a coveted role in the Afghan endgame that has been denied to it so far, Time magazine’s Omar Waraich wrote in an article. He argues that the drone campaign targeting al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwest corridor of the country has been going on since 2004, gathering pace once President Barack Obama took office in January2009. Pakistan has either tolerated the covert U.S. campaign or even given its silent approval to the offensive against the militants including those threaten the Pakistani state itself.
But of late it has seized on the drones to whip up nationalist passions to force America’s hand in Afghanistan and secure its interests there, the author says. The big fear is, as always, India and that it would end up playing a bigger role in a resolution of the Afghan conflict. Pakistan’s generals are paranoid about India’s expanding role in Afghanistan and they feel that the United States has failed to address those concerns, says Imtiaz Gul, who heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.
The military believes that the United States and India, helped by the Tajik-dominated Afghan security establishment, are trying to deny Pakistan a central role in Afghanistan despite the shared border and ethnic ties between the two countries. The worst fear is that India may get key security responsibilities in Afghanistan once the bulk of foreign troops leave., Gul says in a piece for Foreign Policy. That would complete the Pakistani nightmare of encirclement – an economically and militarily powerful India on the east and a hostile Afghanistan on the west.
It’s hard though to see how India can assume security responsibilities in Afghanistan when it cannot even conduct trade with the country because Pakistan does not give it transit rights. Even if New Delhi wishes to play a bigger role, it is circumscribed by both geography and history. The one time India’s military got involved in a foreign tangle was in Sri Lanka against the Tamil Tiger separatists and that was an unhappy experience. Afghanistan, the traditional graveyard of empires, would be a challenge several times bigger.
But within the U.S.-Pakistan narrative, India seems to have become an even bigger factor. Pakistan, says Gul, shows no sign of giving in to U.S. demands to go after either the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban or the Lashkar-e-Taiba considered a global threat to the West. Nor does the United States appear ready to accommodate Pakistani concerns about Indian involvement in Afghanistan.
Quite a far cry from the situation last year when Pakistan seemed firmly in the saddle in efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan. It may still play a role given its ties to the insurgents, but the deteriorating relationship with the United States has left it with weaker cards to play with.