Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pakistan/Afghan Relations

     The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Obama Administration has temporarily put a stop to drone strikes in Pakistan.  Relations post-Osama bin Laden raid between the United States and Pakistan have been less than familiar.  Pakistan is also concerned with the number of civilian casualties related to US drone strikes despite reports of Pakistani Intelligence Services cooperation with US Intelligence on strikes.

     The reason behind the pause is potential negotiations between the Pakistani government and the Taliban.  The Post reported, "The current pause [in strikes] follows a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud just days before an initial attempt at peace talks was scheduled to begin. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government accused the United States of trying to sabotage the talks, and the Taliban canceled the meeting.The Post also reported, "The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials."

     The Taliban has caused problems for the Afghan/Pakistan region and in turn, the United States.  There have also been reports that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has held peace talks with the Taliban except on a clandestine basis leading many officials to believe why Karzai has been hesitant to, and disruptive, in signing a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between his nation and the United States.  According to reporting by the New York Times, "outreach was apparently initiated by the Taliban in November, a time of deepening mistrust between Mr. Karzai and his allies. Mr. Karzai seemed to jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict."  It appears as if the Taliban is no longer interested or the discussions did not yield any positive result to an agreement with the Afghan government.  

     These recent developments highlight Karzai's shady demeanor and demonstrate a regression back to pre-American involvement in which the Taliban maintained a dominant influence in Afghanistan and Karzai was referred to as "the Mayor of Kabul."  Despite support from the Loya Jirga, a council of elders in Afghanistan, for continued US involvement in security and counterterrorism training, Karzai has a jaded feeling toward the US - mainly due to what are referred to as "night raids" where covert US forces would barge into homes looking for Taliban and sometimes kill innocent civilians based on poor intelligence.  The Times stated, "In some respects, Mr. Karzai’s outbursts have been an effort to speak to Afghans who want him to take a hard line against the Americans, including many ethnic Pashtuns, who make up nearly all of the Taliban."  Some of the hardliners are still upset over these night raids and they have played a major role in negotiating a BSA.

     Lessons from Iraq:

     Many question what would happen if US forces had to fully withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.  There are fearful connotations that Afghanistan may suffer the same disappointing effect as Iraq.  Rep Eliot Engel (D-NY) stated at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this week that the situation in Iraq "breaks my heart."  At the same hearing, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) had harsh words concerning the unstable situation in Iraq.  Rohrabacher stated in a scathing soliloquy that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is an accomplice to murders going on in Iraq questioning the desire of the United States to lift him up.  He stated the United States should let the Iraqis "kill each other."  He also lamented, "I'm very happy we don't have Americans in the middle of that mess," in terms of the security vacuum in Iraq.  

     Karzai has demonstrated that he is still in-bed with members of the Taliban.  Even though he is leaving office, it is important not to support leaders who remain familiar with nefarious activity to Rep. Rohrabcher's point.  In an article by the British media outlet The Guardian, the author asserts, "What is that the Taliban, whether by crafty design or thanks to Karzai's dysfunctional relationships, have succeeded in complicating, if not wrecking, President Barack Obama's 2014 withdrawal scenario."  

     The United States wants to combat terrorism abroad but it also does not want to disrupt relationships with nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.  After the Iraq withdrawal, the nation was incapable, or flat out negligent, in maintaining security.  

    Next steps:

     The drone war has upset many including American humanitarian sympathizers.  The United States appears to be making progress with the Pakistani government but in reality, what can come of peace talks with known belligerent groups such as the Taliban?  History demonstrates it is nearly impossible to negotiate with rouge states let alone rouge actors.  For the time being, it is important to honor the wishes of the Pakistani government and allow them their sovereign right to negotiate.  

     With Afghanistan, President Obama and his team have their work cut out for them.  Questions that must be weighed in this debate are if the lessons from Iraq are, in fact, transferable.  Obama does not want his legacy to be the withdrawal from two wars where each nation returned to pre-American turmoil.  For President Obama's sake, he must hope the next Afghan leader is a more reliable ally than President Karzai.


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