Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Recent Developments Offer Signs Of Normalization In US-Pakistan Relations

Adam DiMaioAny marriage counselor will tell you that relationships suffering from degrading lines of communication are fraught with peril. The Pakistan-US alliance is a living example that this truth is not restricted to struggling couples. Dysfunction has pock-marked the last two years of the alliance, with impacts that have spilled over into the wider region. The Raymond Davis incident, the execution of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Salala affair and subsequent closure of NATO supply lines ushered in a murky fog that engulfed the partnership, obscuring the mutual interests that had long united both democracies.

Thankfully, for those who longed for the normalization of the US-Pakistan relationship, recent developments should offer some satisfaction.

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Obama, Zardari meet at NATO summit in Chicago

President Obama meets with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Chicago

Counter to numerous media reports that President Obama “snubbed” or “shunned” Pakistani President Zardari, the two met twice during the NATO summit in Chicago, including a brief one-on-one conversation according to media reports – and the White House itself.

The two presidents did not have a formal bilateral meeting in Chicago, but this was likely a function of the fact that, despite Pakistan’s central role in resolving the Afghan conflict, neither side wanted ongoing US-Pakistan negotiations to overshadow the broader issues related to stabilizing Afghanistan and transferring control of that nation’s security to domestic forces.

When Presidents Obama and Zardari did meet, they each conveyed the priorities of their constituencies: President Obama reportedly “emphasised to Zardari that Pakistan “has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan,” while President Zardari told Obama “that unless drone attacks were brought to an immediate halt, things would not return to normal.”

Meanwhile, the White House expressing confidence that US-Pakistan negotiations are on a positive trajectory, and a solution that satisfies the concerns of both sides is near.

Is Pakistan at war with the United States?

That’s the alarming headline of a blog post by Walter Russell Mead, James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest. The impetus for Mead’s question is the recent allegation that links exist between Pakistan’s government and the Haqqani network of militants in North Waziristan that is believed to be responsible for attacks on American soliders in Afghanistan. But Mead’s concerns are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the way Pakistan’s government operates, and his conclusion, founded in this misunderstanding, recommends a self-defeating policy for anyone that wants to promote democracy and justice in Pakistan.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said over the weekend that “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistani government.” But we must take care when discussing “the Pakistani government” not to fall into the trap of mirror-imaging, assuming the Pakistani “government” operates in the same cohesive manner that the US government does.

Ambassador Munter’s statements alleging official support for the Haqqani network refer to evidence against the ISI – not the civilian leadership.

[Admiral] Mullen believes that “elements” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI, “directly support” the Haqqani network, Kirby said.

The Haqqani network is aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda and is considered one the most significant threats to stability in Afghanistan. U.S. officials believe Haqqani operatives are moving unfettered across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are responsible for several recent high-profile attacks in Kabul, including this week’s assault.

In late April, Mullen said on Pakistan’s Geo TV that the ISI has a “long-standing relationship” with the Haqqani network.

Confusion arises because Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in opposition to it.

The most recent example of the ISI operating outside the oversight of the civilian government could be seen on the pages of the Wall Street Journal this past 9/11. A half-page ad asked, “Which country can do more for your peace?” and included statistics about the losses Pakistan has suffered in the war on terrorism. While the bottom of the ad said, “Government of Pakistan,” the Journal’s South Asia reporter, Tom Wright, found that the ad was not approved through the regular government channels.

Pakistani media blog Cafe Pyala called their own sources and found evidence that the ad was a politically tone-deaf attempt by the ISI to influence American opinion.

Well, our sources inform us that the problem about the source of the ad arose because neither the Pakistan Embassy in Washington nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) nor the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoI&B) were the sources of the ad. In fact, our sources confirm that none of these three Pakistani government entities was even consulted about the ad. In fact, the ad, designed by the Pakistani advertising agency Midas, was placed directly from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

Why, you might ask, would the Prime Minister’s Secretariat bypass its own subordinate media departments and its representatives who are specifically tasked with international relations work? Could it be, as our sources indicate, that the advertisement was the first instance of the country’s premier intelligence agency directly placing an advertisement in a foreign publication?

Nor is this the first time that the ISI has made an end run around the civilian leadership in Pakistan. Shortly after Pakistan’s civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the announcement.

The government’s backtracking has prompted plenty of comment among politicians and in the Pakistan media.

An ex-army officer and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, told the Dawn News TV channel that the government retracted its decision when the army “showed its teeth”.

Formally, the ISI currently reports to the prime minister. But many observers believe it is answerable to no one.

This split between the democratically-elected civilian government and Pakistan’s spy agency was shown in stark relief during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Writing for the English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida noted that when push comes to shove, it’s not the civilians who hold the upper hand in matters that concern the ISI.

When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

Walter Read says he supports a continued US-Pakistan relationship, “but in our view the US has to be ready to walk away for the relationship to have a chance.” We suggest that walking away is the wrong prescription.

The Pakistani government is fighting multiple wars, but none is against the United States. The primary war, the one that has claimed the lives of 30,000 Pakistanis, is against Taliban militants who will go so far as to attack a bus filled with school children. The other war is for Pakistan’s soul, and is being waged quietly behind the scenes as democratically oriented civilian leaders struggle to wrest control of the nation from undemocratic forces leftover from previous dictatorships. Walking away from the democratic civilian leaders will only strengthen the undemocratic forces in Pakistan. It’s a mistake the US has made in the past, and one that it should be careful not to repeat.

It may seem counterintuitive to speak of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies as separate institutions, but the distinction matters. Pakistan’s civilian leadership – though weak – is trying to implement democratic reforms; and those efforts are often held back by unaccountable military and intelligence officials who are loath to cede their power to civilians. Rather than paint all institutions with the same broad brush, US officials should seek to strengthen civilian democratic institutions so that they can effectively reign in those parts of the military and intelligence services that are acting outside of civilian oversight.

Is the WSJ being used as a proxy in internal Afghan debates?

Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, and Asif Zardari

Matthew Rosenberg’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal claims that Pakistan is secretly urging the Karzai government in Afghanistan to sever ties with the US and change to a Chinese-Pakistani led alliance to secure the country. But reading the article, it quickly becomes apparent that the article more likely reflects a divide among Afghan officials who are using Pakistan as a foil and the US media as a proxy in internal debates.

According to Rosenberg, the source for this revelation is “Afghan officials.” If you read further, however, you’ll learn that Afghan officials have split into “pro- and anti-American factions at the presidential palace trying to sway” President Karzai. In fact, despite the claims of anonymous “Afghan officials,” Matthew Rosenberg quotes presidential spokesman Waheed Omar saying, “Pakistan would not make such demands.”

So what was said at the April 16th meeting between Pakistan and Afghan leaders? According to US officials, it was likely a discussion about how to proceed should the US pull out of the region – a legitimate security concern with target drawdown dates looming.

Some U.S. officials said they had heard details of the Kabul meeting, and presumed they were informed about Mr. Gilani’s entreaties in part, as one official put it, to “raise Afghanistan’s asking price” in the partnership talks. That asking price could include high levels of U.S. aid after 2014. The U.S. officials sought to play down the significance of the Pakistani proposal. Such overtures were to be expected at the start of any negotiations, they said; the idea of China taking a leading role in Afghanistan was fanciful at best, they noted.

Evaluated in the context of existing cooperation in the region, this read by US officials makes more sense than any suggestion that Pakistan is attempting to freeze the US out of Afghanistan. Reason notwithstanding, Wall Street Journal readers are likely to walk away with an unnecessarily sour feeling about the intentions of the Pakistani government. But is this fair?

Mr. Rosenberg’s sources – unnamed “Afghan officials” – are not even described as having been present for the conversations but simply “familiar with the meeting.” A spokesman for the president denies that Pakistan is pressuring Karzai to “to dump [the] U.S.” as the Wall Street Journal headline screams. And despite the Journal reporter’s rather hyperbolic claim that “no other party has been as direct, and as actively hostile to the planned U.S.-Afghan pact, as the Pakistanis,” such a characterization is belied by ongoing security cooperation between the two countries.

This is not to say that the US and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on everything. Each country has its own priorities for the region, and cooperation comes where those priorities overlap. Relations between Pakistan and the US have been described as tense over the past few months due to negotiations over the use of armed drones and interagency coordination on counterinsurgency operations. But negotiations over such operational details are standard in coalition forces, and Pakistan and the US continue to work together to protect shared security interests.

As an experienced South Asian correspondent, Matthew Rosenberg should recognize efforts to use his work as a proxy in internal government debates. Speaker John Boehner recently recognized Pakistan’s great sacrifice in the fight against militant extremists, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen praised cooperation between US and Pakistani troops working jointly against terrorist groups. The Wall Street Journal should not distort Pakistan’s record.

Who’s Vexing Whom?

Gen. Kayani and Adm. MullenThis morning’s Washington Post features a front page story by Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung that claims “US courts Pakistan’s top general, with little result.” While writing that Pakistan’s top military commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is hesitant to follow American timelines for battling militant groups, however, the article actually explains that a key obstacle to progress in the fight is America’s inability to view the conflict through a broad historical lens.

The US has approximately 1.5 million active duty personnel – fewer than 100,000 of whom (about 6 percent) are stationed in Afghanistan. By comparison, Pakistan’s active duty personnel number around 617,000 – 140,000 of whom (23 percent) are on the Western border with Afghanistan. Either way you cut it, actual numbers of troops or percentage of total military force, the fact is the Pakistan military actually has more boots on the ground dedicated to fighting terrorist groups.

But the real concern is not that Pakistan is not doing enough, its that Pakistan’s military is not moving against groups in the remote areas of North Waziristan on the timeline preferred by some in the Pentagon.

As I explained last week, this could be addressed in part by giving Pakistan the resources it needs to carry out clear and hold operations against militant groups in the remote tribal areas – namely, helicopters. But the deeper issue is one of trust between the two countries, particularly around the question of America’s “end game” in the region. Pakistan needs to be not only assured but convinced that the US is a long-term ally.

In fact, this morning’s Washington Post article even says as much.

Like the influential military establishment he represents, he views Afghanistan on a timeline stretching far beyond the U.S. withdrawal, which is slated to begin this summer. While the Obama administration sees the insurgents as an enemy force to be defeated as quickly and directly as possible, Pakistan has long regarded them as useful proxies in protecting its western flank from inroads by India, its historical adversary.

“Kayani wants to talk about the end state in South Asia,” said one of several Obama administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive relationship. U.S. generals, the official said, “want to talk about the next drone attacks.”

As I’ve argued before, Pakistan will not be able to change its strategic calculus vis-a-vis Afghanistan until it feels secure against conventional aggression by India. The Pakistani brass see two possible outcomes that they want to avoid facing following an American withdrawal: Fighting militant groups alone or bordering an Afghanistan with a government under the influence of India, effectively leaving them encircled by a historic enemy.

Like any responsible national security team, Pakistan’s strategists must weigh these potential outcomes against the risks of driving historically unaligned militant groups together – a threat that is already materializing, and losing what influence remains with the groups.

For Pakistan’s national security interests to become fully aligned with American interests regarding militant groups in the region, the unacceptable outcomes identified above must be perceived as unrealistic enough to justify the risks. We know this because Gen. Kayani and the Pakistani leadership continue to tell us as much.

Here at home, domestic concern in about the ongoing fight in Afghanistan continues to center on the “end game.” The American people want to know what victory in Afghanistan will look like, and what how long we’ll be in the region. The Pakistanis do to. Until the US can answer that question, it will be vexing Gen. Kayani as much as he’s vexing us.