Pak-US relations: a new turn in Afghanistan

Daily: Weekly Cutting Edge
Date: 16.07.18

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.

Back to columns in 2018