A Complicated Relationship

By Ahmad Karim


We all know after 9/11, in 2001 U.S. jumped into the quagmire, Afghanistan, for the possible arrest of Al-Qaeda’s leader, late Osama Bin Laden, who was being sheltered in Afghanistan by Taliban leader late Mullah Omar. U.S. gumption fell low in searching OBL for years but they managed to topple the government of Taliban facilely.
U.S. remained there for a decade in OBL’s search and finally they managed to assassinate OBL in a suspicious purportedly surreptitious U.S. Special Forces operation in May 2011 in Pakistan’s populated area of Abbotabad.
That news was disseminated by Barack Obama and he congratulated the American nation and the world that the proved threat for America and the rest of the world has been mowed down in a firefight in a compound near Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, by U.S. Special Forces.
After Hamid Karzai’s government which was very hostile towards Pakistan, Ashraf Ghani came into power [albeit many argue of his loyalties for U.S.] on 21st September 2014 and started developing cordial relations with Pakistan. On the embolden of U.S. authorities, Ghani asked Pakistan’s establishment to convince Afghan Taliban for peace talks, while on the other hand CIA and ISI were both in accord of its implementation.
In short, Pakistan started the official dialogue process in Muree [Pakistan] amidst some deadly attacks claimed by Taliban in sensitive parts of Afghanistan. And then came the news of Mullah Omar’s natural death.
Mullah Mansur after much controversy made the new ‘Emir’ of Taliban by its shura council. After since his appointment, Afghan people experienced a new billowing wave of terrorist attacks in major cities including allied forces compounds.
The peace talk’s future stalled. And there was a surge of pressure from Afghan officials aided with fierce media campaign alleging Pakistan’s involvement in the attacks, Ghani started to distance himself from Pakistan.
Reminiscent of CIA and ISI rift after OBL’s alleged clandestine assassination, that remained for a couple of years, the peace talks with Taliban initiative was a pretty surprise. It looked both savvy each other’s interests in region and they’ll move on.
But after the capture of Kunduz city by Taliban on 28th September2015, they both are now suspicious in each other’s eyes.
On the fall of Kunduz, Afghan National Army experienced helplessness and asked allied forces, mainly U.S., for help from ground and by air. The U.S. forces with ANA defeated Taliabn and recaptured Kunduz city after a couple of days of fierce battle.
In those days, AC-130 gunship unleashed a hospital in Kunduz city, killing at least 22 patients and hospital staff. Pentagon initially said the attack was to protect U.S. troops as the hospital building was used for heavy gunfire and troops were engaged in a firefight but has since said it was a mistake.
The American Special Operations Analysts claim that U.S. military believed that there was a Pakistani operative in hospital to coordinate Taliban activity and that the hospital was being used as a command and control center for Taliban and may have housed heavy weapons. According to the analysts intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative based on overhead surveillance. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed. But Pakistan, on Friday 16th October 2015, rejected the claims. Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said, “Allegations implicating Pakistan are baseless”, local media reported. “I want to reiterate that non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs is a key pillar of our Afghan policy,” the FO spokesman said.
No evidence has surfaced publically in U.S. to support allegation about Pakistan’s connection or the operative’s demise. On the other hand, American officials started to blame Pakistan’s secret agency right after a day of Kunduz fall.
Doctors Without Borders, an international organization managing hospital has condemned the bombing as a war crime. The organization says the strike killed 12 hospital staff and 10 patients, and that death toll may rise. It insists that no gunmen, weapons or ammunition were in the building.
The attack was one the worst deadliest attacks that took civilians lives in Afghanistan. In December 2013, the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command bombed a group of people it considered militants, but whom outside groups claimed were civilians attending a wedding.
The incident added an argument for some members of Congress who were resisting Obama’s proposal to shift the CIA’s drone killing program to the military.
Relationship Complications
The hospital attack and accusation on Pakistan’s spy agency raises serious questions.

  • Was the pilot flying air support mission had maps showing protected sites such as hospitals and mosques? And if the commanders believed that enemies were operating from a protected site, why didn’t they follow the designed procedure to minimize casualties? That would generally mean surrounding a building with troops, not blowing it to bits from the air.
  • If the U.S. troops were facing resistance from the hospital and asked for air support, were they aware that it’s a hospital? Why didn’t the troops retreat when the hospital is within a compound surrounded by a 12-foot wall that could have offered cover for enemies?
  • Typically, a decision to order a strike in a populated area would require many layers of approval and intelligence analysis of the potential impacts and civilian casualties. Was there any breakdown in intelligence sharing and communication across the military chain of command?

The CIA-ISI love affair has a long history. The love deepened when both collaborated in 1980’s to defeat Soviet forces indulged in a war in Afghanistan. The CIA with the help of ISI trained a number of Jihadis mostly in the tribal belt of Pakistan and supplied them heavy weapons to combat with Soviet forces. After the retreat of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in late 80’s, the U.S. interest in manufactured Jihadis dwindled but Pakistan used them for proxy war in Afghanistan, following the idea of ‘strategic depth.’
When U.S. forces intruded in Afghanistan, Pakistan gave them air bases and other wherewithal’s necessary to win Afghan war. U.S. forces accused Pakistan for favoring Taliban and that Pakistan still have training nurseries and hideouts for Jihadis. During the time of General Kayani, U.S. accused Pakistan’s military leadership of pampering Taliban especially Haqqani network and in many meetings with then COAS, U.S. asked for a decisive operation against the discriminated ‘good taliban’ [esp Haqqani network], but there was no subsequent desired result for the Americans.
After the OBL’s arcane assassination in Pakistan, the rift between CIA and ISI deepened. It took a couple of years to normalize the mutual cooperation and intelligence sharing against militants. After General Raheel Sharif’s appointment as Pakistan Army Chief and his ostensible indiscriminate decisive operation, Zarb-i-Azb, against Taliban and other militants, the CIA-ISI counter-terrorism cooperation improved. Raheel Sharif was being welcomed in his first visit to U.S. and was appreciated of his crucial military operation.
After the appointment of Mullah Mansur as Taliban ‘Emir’ and deadliest terrorist attacks in Afghansitan, many of the U.S. and Afghan officials accused Pakistan behind these attacks. In an editorial by Awami National Party’s Senator Afrasiab Khattak, he wrote the good and bad Taliban discrimination is still palpable.
The U.S. and Afghan governments have long accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban, but U.S. rhetoric on the issue has cooled over the past year as American-Pakistani counterterrorism cooperation has improved.
The recent accusations by U.S. and Afghan officials that Pakistan helped Taliban in capturing Kunduz city and that one Pakistani operative was coordinating Taliban activity in a hospital managed by DWB is not something bright for this region.
Is this just a pressure tactic to pressurize Pakistan to do more against terrorists elimination? Is the accusation just to put the onus on Pakistan and escaping from their criminal mistake of bombing a hospital? The truth is still to be known.
It is in the interest of this region that both U.S. and Pakistan work in cohesion to eliminate this violent extremism menace. It’s rhetoric in Pakistan that U.S. is giving more space to India in Afghanistan which is against the interest of Afghan and Pakistani people. This rhetoric distances Pakistan from India more and we’ve seen some fierce violation on LoC.
For a peaceful Afghanistan and this region, U.S. must put both Pakistan and India on dialogue table and convince them to work mutually for this region’s peace without hampering each other’s interest in the region.
The recent allegations that Pakistan is still playing active role in Afghanistan and challenging the Z-i-A’s purported discriminate assault only against bad Taliban will not going to help Afghanistan and this region.
The concerns of U.S. and Afghanistan on alleged Z-i-A’s non-decisive operation against violent extremist is horrifying for this region’s irenic dream.

  • Anjaan

    The US is a hostage of its own murky games of the past several decades … the CIA-ISI games of lies, deceit and misinformation regarding the Al Qaeda and Taliban is taking its toll now … the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan knows that Zarb-e-Azb is party Zarb-e-Baakwas, as termed by a prominent American analyst with decades of involvement with Pakistan. It is now down to a chicken and mouse games between the US and Pakistan which is moving towards its logical conclusion …

  • masadi

    The author of this piece is a sellout pee-on of the West. The U.S. is interested in only one thing, justifying its high military budget and the use of tax payer money for military purposes to its public. For that reason it starts most of the wars in this region. The military of the U.S. also has in addition to this fleecing role an instrumental role in ensuring its competitors maintain their subordinate positions like an organized crime boss divides up territories among competing groups, if any group transgresses, the big boss will send out some people to take care of him or her, if they are small finish them off like Iraq, if they are big try to create trouble in their territory like with Russia. The U.S. knew very well that it was a hospital they were targeting, they killed people in cold blood and will continue to do so till their economy is dependent on war based growth and is controlled by, dominated by, the Military Industrial Complex.

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  • saadhafiz


    For a time, the US and Pakistan were in danger of running an important bilateral relationship aground atop a mountain of mutual suspicions and recriminations. Indeed, polarising issues increasingly dominated mutual ties. The chorus of accusations levelled at Pakistan included being a nominal ally in the war on terrorism, using violent non-state actors to de-stabilise neighbouring countries and facilitating nuclear proliferation. Equally, the US finger pointing for its own lack of success in stabilising Afghanistan alarmed Pakistan. The growing US strategic partnership with regional rival India also played into Pakistan’s insecurities. While mutual concerns have not entirely disappeared, a better convergence of interests is visible after Prime Minister (PM) Sharif’s trip to the US.

    An important reason why the US-Pakistan relationship is on a better trajectory is that Pakistanis have recognised, belatedly, that their tryst with extremism has been hugely counterproductive. This acknowledgement has led to decisive action being taken against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Finally, after killing many Pakistanis over a decade, the TTP is considered a real threat to the country. For its part, the US quite rightly continues to stress that Pakistan undertake effective counter-terrorism actions and not discriminate against terror groups including the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). However, the US has probably concluded that a multifaceted relationship with Pakistan can best help in managing the challenges that both countries face, particularly the continued chaos and violence in Afghanistan and West Asia, which threatens to destabilise the region and beyond.

    Obviously, of immediate interest to both the US and Pakistan (and sadly a bit of a pipe-dream) is a secure, stable, prosperous Afghanistan. Clearly, an Afghan peace process, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, without foreign interference has the best chance of success. Pakistan can play an important role to help create conditions for a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, part of a secure, stable and prosperous region. But neither the US nor Pakistan can impose a government on the Afghan people. Now that the US has decided that in the near-turn it is unwise to fully exit from Afghanistan, it can actively work with Pakistan and others to revive the Afghan peace process.

    Moreover, Pakistan’s relationship with India is critical to Pakistan’s future. Normalisation of relations between the two countries is important for both to them and for stability in the region. In this context, the US cannot choose between Pakistan and India or tilt towards either of them. The US’ relations with Pakistan and India stand on their respective merits. US policy based on a composite approach involving India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can help in the search for stability and peace in the region.

    Furthermore, it would be a mistake for Pakistan to bet solely on its strategic importance and nuclear weapons’ capability in relations with Washington. The US is Pakistan’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade at five billion dollars a year. And the US is a significant source of foreign direct investment into Pakistan. As a superpower, the US can use its considerable bilateral and multilateral economic leverage to compel Pakistan to cooperate. Having said that, any major US pressure on Pakistan could have the opposite of a desired effect by weakening the civilian government or creating more public ill will towards the US. Either outcome could well prove disastrous for Washington.

    Bilateral relations also depend on the attitudes of governments that profoundly affect the views of opinion-makers and the public, attitudes that are difficult to erase. In the past, the Pakistani establishment roped in a pliant media to join the chorus accusing the US of nefarious designs towards Pakistan, including depriving it of its nuclear weapons’ capability. Local commentators harped on about the evil intentions that the US has towards Pakistan and the Muslim world. The fact that the US has propped up Pakistan since its creation belies the charge that it has hostile intentions. Hopefully, as bilateral relations and mutual confidence improve, the negative din will die down.

    Ultimately, the US-Pakistan relationship is more important than just the counter-terrorism or military linkage. The US must remain committed to a broad, sustainable and enduring partnership with Pakistan that delivers progress for the Pakistani people and reinforces Pakistan’s democracy and civil society. Above all, it would help if the political representatives retain primacy over bilateral negotiations to put the relationship on a more solid footing. Traditionally, this has proven difficult as the military establishment controls strategic policies in Pakistan. The US has found it more effective therefore to deal directly with the military brass and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This approach ought to change.

    In conclusion, the US-Pakistan relationship today is a mixture of opportunities and challenges on global issues such as maintenance of peace and security, combating violent non-state actors, women’s empowerment, energy and climate change, and negotiation of trade agreements. In the face of complex challenges, the bilateral relationship requires adaptability, nimbleness and flexibility. Both sides can strengthen the relationship by demonstrating a higher degree of sensitivity to mutual concerns with an understanding that agreement on every issue is not possible.

  • saadhafiz


    “Whole populations — millions of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Christians — are being forced to live in terror, unsure of when and from where the assault will come.”