Interpreting the State of US Pakistan Relations and Political Reconciliation in Afghanistan

Context
In the aftermath of Raymond Davis incident, US-Pakistan relations continue to trek along a bumpy road. Last week, the head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha travelled to US and met with CIA chief Leon Panetta. According to media reports, it was to deliver a message that the country would no longer allow drone attacks in Pakistan and to demand reduction in the number CIA personnel in Pakistan. The events that have followed indicate that the Americans have rejected both demands. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s top political and military brass travelled to Afghanistan on Saturday to hold talks with Karzai. This article examines the health of US-Pakistan relations and the progress towards finding a political solution for Afghanistan.

Analysis

Chief of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha travelled to US and met with Leon Panetta last Monday. Two recent events marked the tense relations between the intelligence organizations of the two countries. One of these events was the Raymond Davis incident in Lahore. The other event came soon after Raymond was released, in the form of a drone attack on March 17, in Data Khel area of North Waziristan. Stern statements followed this particular drone attack from Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Kiyani.

PoliTact has previously interpreted Pakistan’s stiff stance after the events,

“The strong statements coming from the Chief of Army Staff could be meant for domestic consumption, and to temper the public protests planned tomorrow. Additionally, it may also be to counter the perception that Pakistan Army has changed its position in any way, after the Raymond Davis related US Pakistan strategic discussions, by allowing drone attacks on Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan.”

Few details were made available on the results of the meeting between the heads of two intelligence organizations, CIA and ISI. However, even before Shuja Pasha had reached home, another drone attack took place on April 13 on Angoor Adda area of South Waziristan, which is under the influence of pro-Pakistan Taliban leader Mullah Nazir. Six militants linked to Haqqani network were reportedly killed in this attack.

On the other hand, statements emanating from US over the weekend, stated that US no longer needs the help of ISI as it has already established its own network in Pakistan. “Panetta has an obligation to protect the American people and he isn’t going to call an end to any operations that support that objective,” one American official said.

A number of other developments also point to the fact that the gap is widening between the two allies. Consider the following developments:

  • Blaming the Lashkar for targeting US troops in Afghanistan, Chief of US Pacific Command Admiral Robert Willard, told lawmakers last week that there was proof of the group’s existence in the broader Asia Pacific, Europe as well as in Canada and America. Lashkar was formed by Pakistani security establishment 20 years ago to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba has declared a holy war (jihad) on the US and is seeking to expand the scope of its activities to Europe and other places, said a top American military commander, warning that the group no longer focuses solely on India or the South Asian region. Lashkar, considered the most highly-funded militant group in the region, carried out the deadly terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008 which left 166 people dead, including foreigners.
  • A report reviewing the war was presented this month by Obama administration to US Congress and has been critical of Pakistan’s counter insurgency performance.
  • Under the budget deal signed between the Obama administration and Congress to prevent a government shutdown, $8.5 billion meant for foreign operations were taken from the State Department. The State Department will handover the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund (PCCF) back to the Pentagon for the remaining part of the year. The administration had asked for $1.2 billion in this year’s State Department’s budget for the PCCF, but the deal cut down that demand by $400 million and transferred the remaining sum of $800 to the Department of Defense. The Pentagon was the original manager of the program but transferring the fund’s management as well as the money to Foggy Bottom was an essential part of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s strategy to give State Department more control over foreign military aid. This move would strengthen the negotiation power of the Department of Defense with the institution that holds most sway in Pakistan, its army.

These developments have been followed by the surprise visit of Pakistan’s top political and military leadership to Afghanistan on Saturday. The statement made by Prime Minister Gillani after talks with Karzai reflected these meetings have taken place under US auspice. However, PoliTact believes this may not be hundred percent correct. The lack of media coverage for such a significant event in US mainstream media validates the claim.

Nonetheless, the talks held in Kabul between Afghan and Pakistan leadership have resulted in reorganization of the High Peace Council. The Council was established in January to spearhead the reconciliation process, and is headed by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The new joint commission established as a result of the talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan would include senior political, military, and intelligence officials of both countries. Earlier, both Pakistan and Afghanistan supported the idea of Taliban political office in Turkey, to serve as a communication center for peace talks. Though official request for such a political office is yet to be made, Turkey’s approval would bolster the efforts of Afghan President Karzai to integrate the moderate Taliban fighters into mainstream society, according to a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official. Officials did not rule out the inclusion of Turkey and Saudi Arabia in these talks at a later stage.

Conclusion

Through these talks, Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to be speeding up the process of political reconciliation, with or without US support. On the other hand, US through its recent statements, has indicated that it would go after the good and bad Taliban, using drone attacks, with or in absence of Pakistan’s support. Thus, US and Pakistan are drifting apart as it relates to the solution for Afghan quagmire.

US has wanted to control the peace process and has sought to first develop a position of strength using force. To establish an upper hand US has been dependent on Pakistan’s support. In this context, Prime Minister Gillani’s opposition to preconditions before peace talks could occur signifies the different approaches US and Pakistan are beginning to undertake. “Conditions, qualifications or demands at this stage, in our view, may not be helpful,” Gillani stated.

The comment could be seen as a position different than the criteria laid down by US for which groups it is willing to reconcile with: those that would terminate ties with Al Qaeda, lay down arms, and accept the Afghan constitution.

Based on media analysis, PoliTact had earlier pointed to Pakistan’s priority at this juncture, which has moved from the ideal state of seeking strategic depth and friendly government in Afghanistan, to a stable country on its border. The uncertainty of what this change means for good and bad Taliban, as Pakistan defines them, could also be used as leverage against these groups to move them to the negotiation table.

As previously pointed out by PoliTact, US relations are worsening with both the Shiite and Sunni Islamic world. Since the beginning of the year, as a result of the uprisings in the Arab world and the Afghan war, US ties have snow dived with two key Sunni allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Considering the situation in Middle East, US cannot afford to have Al Qaeda and extremist groups linked to it strengthen in South Asia, and to exploit the volatile situation of Middle East.

Nonetheless, these recent events suggest that US and Pakistan are posturing to indicate that they are going ahead with their own visions of the future. This is markedly different than the earlier approach in which both attempted to persuade and influence the other, on the advantage of their respective strategy.