Awaiting Pakistan’s Response – Afghan Taliban and the Appearance of US Stealth Jet Drone (RQ-170 Sentinel)

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Context

As PoliTact recently noted in itsDECEMBER 2009 FORECASTE , both US-Pakistani relations and the balance of power in the region have reached a critical point. Although President Obama announced the new Afghan strategy on December 1st, there has been complete quiet on the Pakistani side. Other than comments from Pakistan’s Foreign Office stating that the new US strategy should not have any negative impact on Pakistan, there has been no official response. During his visit to Europe, Prime Minister Gilani stated that his government is studying the implications of the new strategy, and will comment at a later time

Meanwhile, extremists have increased their attacks, particularly targeting military and intelligence facilities across the country and conveying to Pakistan’s army what it can expect if it boosts its cooperation with the US to target the Afghan Taliban and Jihadi groups such as LeT.

There are three variant explanations for the lack of Pakistani response. The first possibility is that Pakistan has already agreed to go after the Afghan Taliban but does not want to publicize this decision. According to an Indian website, there was a six-hour meeting between General McChrystal and General Kiyani prior to the announcement of the new strategy. The second possibility, perhaps a more plausible interpretation based on media reports, is that Pakistan’s position is simply undetermined. An official statement of Pakistan’s position is being anxiously awaited in the US, as it can have a significant impact on the new strategy for Afghanistan. Third, it is quite possible that the details are being negotiated by the two governments and thus the present quiet. There are also reports that, as part of the discussions, Pakistani forces might be allowed to cross into Afghanistan under certain conditions.

A carrot-and-stick approach is in play. Statements appeasing Pakistan have emerged from the Defense Department. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has claimed that there will be no hot pursuit of extremists across the border into Pakistan, while Admiral Mike Mullen has stressed the importance of the resolution of the Kashmir issue while also pointing out that he has raised the issue of Indian interference in Balochistan with the Indian authorities.

Meanwhile, an Israeli website reports that the US Air Force spokesman has confirmed the presence of an unmanned, high-altitude stealth jet drone at the US air base of Bagram, Afghanistan. The RQ-170 Sentinel was manufactured by Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program and has reportedly been deployed for increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for combatant commanders in Afghanistan. The media has further noted its ability to fly over the borders of Iran, China, India and Pakistan for collecting “useful data about missile tests, telemetry, signals and multi-spectral intelligence.” Speculations are rife that the drone, widely known as “The Beast of Kandahar,” is being used for the spying missions in Pakistan and Iran, related most probably to the nuclear programs of these two countries.

This news gives credibility to the widely held belief in the region and beyond that Afghanistan has become an epicenter for global and regional power tussles and foreign presence in Afghanistan is for more than simply fighting extremist groups in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas.
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