NationalVolume 13 Issue # 23

Pak-US relations: a new turn in Afghanistan

The beginning of 2018 witnessed the fulfilment of Pakistan’s two main demands defining its relationship with the United States (US). First, the elimination of Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist, Mullah Fazlullah, head of the Tehrek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hiding in Afghanistan sometime after 2009 and, secondly, the recognition (or acknowledgement) of Pakistan’s sacrifices in men and material, in the war on terror.


On June 13, the presence of the US in Afghanistan delivered a dividend for Pakistan by exterminating Fazlullah in a drone strike in the province of Kunar. On July 2, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells visited Pakistan, met Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, and acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror. In return, Wells also voiced two demands. First, squeeze the Afghan Taliban in sanctuaries in Pakistan and, secondly, play a proactive role in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Of these two demands, the US thinks that the first is the most important because the fate of the second also rests on the first.


In a way, through the demands, the US has tried to justify why it requires Pakistan to clamp down on the Afghan Taliban nestling in its western half, in the suburbs of Peshawar and Quetta. The US is saying that in order to bring the Afghan Taliban to the table in Afghanistan, Pakistan has to make their life difficult. Perhaps, the US sees a direct correlation between Pakistan’s efforts to squeeze the Afghan Taliban and the willingness of the Afghan Taliban to settle for a negotiated peace with the Kabul government or even with the US. Contrarily, Pakistan may not see the correlation in this way. Instead, Pakistan might be seeing a disconnect between the two factors. Pakistan may think that there is no need to strike at the Afghan Taliban inhabiting its land, but there is a need to persuade the Afghan Taliban to open the door of negotiations with the Kabul regime or the US.


Here lies a catch. The Afghan Taliban consider the Kabul government a puppet government not worthy of negotiations. Secondly, the Afghan Taliban consider the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan an obstacle to entering into negotiations with the US. Nevertheless, the Afghan Taliban have softened these stances. That is, they did negotiate the future of Afghanistan not only with the US several times in Doha, Qatar, but they also negotiated the same with the Kabul regime twice in Murree, Pakistan. Apparently, both routes of talks have failed to yield any fruit.


For the US, the use of suicide blasts and remote bomb blasts to disrupt life in Kabul are an immense and immediate threat not only undermining the credibility of the Kabul regime, but also impugning the performance of the US forces in Afghanistan. If Kabul remains quiet and serene, the US can feel or claim the semblance of victory over the Afghan Taliban, but not otherwise. The terrorist acts inflicted on Kabul denote the insidious presence of the Afghan Taliban in and around Kabul. The US believes that Pakistan is the facilitor of the terrorists stifling hand on Kabul – perhaps the Afghan shantytowns in the western half of Pakistan are the mainspring.


On the other hand, Pakistan thinks that any disquiet caused in the Afghan slums would make the Afghans disperse and the dispersal would invite new troubles, one such being Da’esh. Pakistan thinks that the concentrated, delimited Afghan slums are subject to better surveillance than isolated, thinned out populations. Recently, Pakistan has seen a strong link between the Pashtun youth across the border getting united with their Pakistani counterparts against a fake police encounter of Naqeebullah Mehsud at the hands of Rao Anwar, a Senior Superintendent of the Karachi police. Mehsud, a 27-year-old man, hailed from South Waziristan. Anwar assumed him to be a Taliban militant. Anyway, the solidarity signified enormously about the consanguinity transcending the Pak-Afghan political border, the Durand Line.


In the post-Fazlullah phase, the US has increased its pressure on Pakistan. Fazlullah was hiding in Afghanistan sometime after 2009 and this factor gave Pakistan a respite in waiting for his execution as a pre-requisite for almost everything expected of it. Pakistan was somehow convinced that Fazlullah was in collusion with the US which would never eliminate him. The drone strike on June 13 terminated this phase of Pakistan’s apprehension. This is why the US seems to have launched a renewed effort to pressurize Pakistan to look at the Afghan-Taliban question. Pakistan is being reminded that its part of the job is left undone.


The Pakistan army and its attached intelligence agencies might be busy in the forthcoming general elections in the country. However, they are now in demand in the western half of Pakistan. It is not important that the US wait for Pakistan’s initiative to strike at the Afghan Taliban inside Pakistan. The situation is fast moving towards the time when the US may wrest the initiative from Pakistan and compel Pakistan to toe the US line.The “do more” mantra can be segued into “if you don’t, we can do it in your backyard” chant, followed by a complementary action. The US may not be ready to miss any such opportunity especially when the interim government is at the helm of affairs. Interestingly, the post-Fazlullah phase has coincided with the era led by the interim government in Pakistan offering the US a window of opportunity to do more.