Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Behind volatile U.S.-Pakistan ties : the Afghan endgame ?

April 24, 2011

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.


Pakistan’s cards may be weaker, but U.S. game doesn’t look better. A highly relevant issue, in my opinion, is Iran’s role in the current game. The Tajik, who are essentially Persians, are natural allies of Iran and the current government in Kabul cultivates a warm relationship with Teheran, who has invested substantially in Afghan reconstruction.

Posted by tttito | Report as abusive

Hillary Clinton should be praising these peaceful Pakistani protests against the unlawful killings of civilians. Targeted killings of mere suspects, outside of the war zone, along with anyone near them, is a war crime. She supports such protests when the targets are US enemies, but not when the US is the target. That is the Hillary Doctrine – human rights just for some.
Matthew J. Nasuti
former U.S. State Department official (2008)
Reporter – Kabul Press

Posted by MatthewNasuti | Report as abusive

The other problem no one wants to talk about (except an increasing number of Pakistani ex-military and intelligence officers) is ongoing CIA support for the Baloch separatist movement in Balochistan province. In fact, many Pakistani analysts see Pakistan – not Afghanistan – as the real target.

The Pentagon/CIA make no secret of their desire to see energy and mineral rich Balochistan secede from Pakistan to become a US client state – just like energy and mineral rich Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and the other former Soviet republics. Moreover it’s virtually impossible to distinguish terrorist acts by the CIA-backed Baloch Liberation Army from those committed by the Taliban or Al Qaeda -especially around the Chinese-built Gwadar Port in Gwadar, Balochistan (the energy transit route for Iranian oil and natural gas destined for China). Given that both China and Iran are both major political/economic rivals, it’s a pity the US media doesn’t report on any of this.

I blog about this at “Our CIA freedom fighters in Pakistan”  /2011/03/07/our-cia-freedom-fighters-in -pakistan/

Posted by stuartbramhall | Report as abusive

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