4 September 2012
by Kübra Türk, USAK
The transformation of Afghanistan has been on the agenda for almost two years as a sequence of the transition process, and the issue of Pakistan has undoubtedly been cemented at the fore by the Obama administration.
Since then, the Obama administration has more explicitly called into question the U.S. partnership with Pakistan. Efforts to defeat al-Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan with a lack of clearly defined aims, as well as to a larger extent pave the way for a rapprochement between Pakistan and the U.S., pervade the relations between both parties. It is of greater significance that neither the U.S. nor Pakistan has made an effort to construct a long-lasting relationship with the other. Put differently, Pakistan and the U.S. are both allies and rivals over Afghanistan, which in return produces the tense relations.
Current Tensions Between the US and Pakistan
One particularly significant act of impulse in testament to the tense relations was the unilateral strike by the U.S. against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 1, 2011. A second one was another strike by NATO combat aircraft that resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. More significantly, this led to the closure of Pakistan’s transportation route for NATO supplies to Afghanistan. This closure was recently reversed on July 3, 2012 as a result of Hilary Clinton expressing to Hina Rabbani Khar that the U.S. was “sorry,” after nearly one year of postponing the apology. Hence, the route to Afghanistan through Pakistan was reopened. However, this cannot be identified as marking the start any sort of honeymoon period, as the auguries are not seen to be promising.
In a broader sense, the U.S. has an aim to make sure Afghanistan survives after its withdrawal while pushing it to conduct relations with its neighbours, including India. Such a situation exposes a growing presence of India in Afghanistan, which in turn annoys the former’s traditional adversary Pakistan. On the one hand, this has an increasing impact on Pakistan’s persistent anxiety that Indians might go even further and manipulate the post-settlement dispensation in Kabul against Pakistani interests. On the other hand, what is more is the U.S. desire to sell its advanced anti-ballistic missile system, the Patriot Advanced Capability 3, to India by becoming partners to improve it to a larger extent.
The Dilemma of Pakistan over Afghanistan
In that context, Pakistan faces a dilemma while the Indian and American contacts gradually move forward: The U.S. military operations in Afghanistan carry a risk of an internal backlash in Pakistan, especially in terms of militancy and an intense state-society rift. However, it is also believed in Pakistan that a rushed withdrawal of U.S. troops would result in embedded instability in Afghanistan. In this regard, a degree of stability in Afghanistan is fundamental in serving Pakistani interests, especially with a relatively stable government in Kabul that is not hostile to Pakistan.
Moreover, Pakistan will most likely see a negotiated featuring of sufficient Pashtun representation in Afghanistan, including the main Afghan Taliban factions, as part of such a new political arrangement. Hence, Pakistan is entering a situation in which it provides strategic support to the U.S. (after a period of having frozen relations due to the November 2011 event, as previously mentioned) while rejecting the targeting of the Afghan Taliban and other Pakistan-based groups that are operating in and around Afghanistan. However, this also does not come to mean that Pakistan has a desire for the Taliban to once again assume power.
Furthermore, the willingness of the Taliban constitutes ambiguity on the issue of the post-settlement period of Afghanistan. As such, Pakistan is doubtful about the participation of the Taliban in the political reconciliation process or its communication with the U.S., which underlined no guarantee of success in this process. In addition, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is believed to be a liability to America’s Afghanistan strategy together with its diminishing credibility among the Afghan citizens. As a result, for Pakistan, there is a risk of delaying a serious negotiation for a post-settlement Afghanistan.
Behind the scenes, the growing mistrust between Pakistan and the U.S. was revealed with the circumstances surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden, and this increased doubts over the ability of the U.S. and Pakistan to establish a peaceful arrangement regarding Afghanistan. This accelerated with the U.S. pressure on Pakistan to “do more.” Additionally, after the reopening of the door for NATO supplies, the already high level of violence in the country quickly began to grow. Such a problematic situation has already reached exaggerated proportions following the declaration of the Taliban’s “Al Farouk” spring offensive, which commenced on May 3, 2012 and targeted various parts of Afghanistan.
It is unclear how the U.S. and Pakistan will manage such tense relations, especially with the increasingly significant role of India in Afghanistan’s economic progress and prosperity in addition to the possibility of it having some leverage in nuclear technology. Whilst the numbers of attacks initiated by the Taliban are rising dramatically in Afghanistan, another crisis between Pakistan and the U.S. might be waiting just around the corner.