Pakistanís new tune on Afghanistan
Having lost much diplomatic ground in Kabul since last year, Rawalpindi is trying to reclaim its primacy in the Afghan endgame. Pakistan's new prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf traveled Kabul this week to mend fences with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The British Prime Minister David Cameron was at hand to facilitate the resumption of a political dialogue between the estranged neighbours.
Few, however, are willing to bet that the real and sharp contradictions between Kabul and Rawalpindi can be mitigated, let alone resolved, in the coming years. But there is no denying that the Pakistan PM is talking a new language of peace with Kabul. But can the Pakistan army walk the peace walk in Afghanistan?
In mid April 2011, the Pak army chief Ashraf Pervez Kayani arrived in Kabul, with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in tow, and sought to dictate terms to Karzai on reconciliation with the Taliban and reordering Kabul's political structures amidst the U.S. plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014.
Less than a fortnight later, the U.S. Special Forces swooped down the cantonment town of Abbottabad, entered the safehouse for Osama bin Ladin and executed him. Caught red-handed hiding bin Ladin, Pakistan army's credibility as America's leading partner in the war on terror sunk to a new low.
Through 2011, the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan steadily deteriorated. Pakistan's decision to shut down U.S. overland access to Afghanistan in November 2011 underlined the deepening crisis of bilateral relations. The international community could no longer ignore Pakistan army's role in harbouring the Taliban and the Haqqani network, the two principal forces destabilsing the government in Kabul. That the Pakistan army is part of the problem in Afghanistan rather than the solution is now widely acknowledged.
In a revamp of its strategy, the U.S. chose to sign a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Kabul, leave a small residual force in Afghanistan after 2014, rally international economic and military support to the Karzai regime, develop alternate supply routes, directly engage the Taliban, cut military assistance to Rawalpindi, and step up the drone attacks on the terror sanctuaries in Pakistan's western borderlands.
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