US-Pakistan Relations at a Cross Road – The Current Status and Outlook for the Future



In this article PoliTact takes a look at the events of last couple of days, which have culminated in to closing of one of the supply routes for the coalition forces in Afghanistan, passing through Khyber Pass. NATO and Pakistan have initiated a joint investigation in to repeated incursions by coalition gunships. Details of what unfolded remain murky, as has happened during similar events in the past. However, one or some of these cross-border incursions appear to have turned in to attacks on two Pakistani outposts, resulting in the death of three Frontier Constabulary (FC) soldiers and wounding of several others. These incidents have to be understood in the larger context of the tussles of global balance of power.

In our more recent analysis, PoliTact had pointed out that US-Pakistan relations were likely to deteriorate. However, now that is indeed what has happened, we want to present how this conclusion was reached, and what to expect next. We will refer to a number of PoliTact assessments to help understand the nature of Afghan conflict and to decipher the interests of key stakeholders. Moreover, as is our methodology, to demonstrate how the geopolitics of the AfPak region, is greatly impacted by what happens in other areas of the world. Therefore, it’s critical to interpret these global events and their significance for Pakistan and Afghanistan.



It remains PoliTact’s contention, at this point in time, Afghanistan conflict can be better understood by the dynamics of the tussle between US, China, and Russia. PoliTact just released a status report on the balance of power in Central Asia where Russia and US are vying for the control of strategically located Kyrgyzstan. The report on the balance of power in Middle East was published on August 26. These assessments caused us to issue an ‘Entropy Alert’ on September 21, 2010. In this alert, the Implications of the Advancing China-US Rivalry in Asia-Pacific were examined while in ‘Vantage Point Analysis’ of September 6th, the reported presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit Baltistan, was evaluated.

These studies led us to the deduction that we can expect the US-Pakistan relation to deteriorate, including the situation in both Afghanistan and Kashmir. Similarly, PoliTact’s Issue Brief pointed out on September 28th the asymmetric nature of the tactics being used and the significance of the surge in drone attacks, which are indicative of the divergence of interests amongst the key stakeholders.

For example, The Afghan national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta was recently visiting US. In an article published in Washington Post on August 23, he blamed the role of Pakistan, in addition to corruption inside the Afghan government, for the predicament facing the country. He advised the US to re evaluate its strategic alliance with Pakistan and classified it to be a strategic mistake. He claims in the article Pakistan has continued to support the extremists, which is leading to the erosion of support for the Afghan war.

Furthermore, as reported in Bob Woodward’s new book ‘Obama’s Wars,’ CIA has operated a 3,000 strong Afghan counter-terrorist pursuit teams for long-range reconnaissance and surveillance missions since 2002, and which operates in the border areas of Pakistan as well. This disclosure is bound to ruffle some feathers in Islamabad considering the nature of Pakistan-Afghanistan differences. In fact, the timing of the release of the book appears to carryout this intent deliberately and thus widening the distances between the two countries. The book has appeared in the aftermath of the leaks of Wikileaks, which had also pointed the finger at the role of Pakistan and its Army. Such publications from well connected journalists and sensitive reports from western think-tanks are often timed and released at crucial junctures, to achieve a particular foreign policy goal.

Obama’s Review of the US Foreign Policy

Soon after Obama came in to power, he initiated a comprehensive review of the US Afghan strategy, which turned in to an an meticulous evaluation of its foreign policy. PoliTact devoted a series of articles, that remained pertinent, to understand the American premises relating to its foreign policy and Afghan Strategy. These are listed as follows:

US National Security Strategy Document – May 2010

America at a Cross Road – The Quest for New Afghan Strategy, September 21, 2009

The New Afghanistan Strategy and Obama’s Reappraisal of US Foreign Policy November 10, 2009

Escalation as the New US Afghan Strategy – and a Reality Check – Part I, December 3, 2009

The Roles of Europe and NATO in a Successful Outcome in Afghanistan – Part II, December 21, 2009

Can Afghanistan be Saved?- Part III, January 19, 2010

US Conducts Strategic Dialogue

US followed up the strategy discussions with strategic dialogues with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. PoliTact devoted a whole series to the much-celebrated US-Pakistan strategic talks initiated in March. The following articles provide an analysis of the expectations, leverages and global dimension around the US-Pakistan, US-Afghan, and US-India ties:

US-Pak Strategic Dialogue – Part I – The Expectations, March 24, 2010

US-Pak Strategic Dialogue – Part II – The Leverage Game, April 2, 2010

US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue – Part III – The Status of US-China Relations, April 28, 2010

US-Afghan Strategic Talks – Karzai’s Washington Visit, Reconciliation Process and US-Pakistan Track, June 10, 2010

US-India Strategic Dialogue, June 3,  2010

As a result of this extensive review, PoliTact developed the following key positions that Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India have stressed upon US:

Political or Military Solution and Pakistan’s Role

These previous analyses help us understand the current situation, and how we got here, however, the most pertinent questions relate to where do we go from here. At an elementary level, the trouble remains the divergence of threat perceptions of US and Pakistan. As the Afghan war enters a decisive stage, a number of tectonic shifts are taking place, represented recently by the departure of General McChrystal. Apparently, the reason was disrespecting the civilian authority, but appearances are often misleading. The fundamental tension boils down to whether the Afghan conflict will require a predominately military or a political solution and Pakistan’s role in it.

Meanwhile, Pakistan and its economy has been utterly devastated by the ravaging floods and this may further push the country towards political approach and reconciliation with the extremists. Additionally, the political landscape of the country has also changed overnight as a result of the floods. There were media reports earlier that Pakistan’s ISI may have been been facilitating the reconciliation between the Haqqani network and Karzai. US, at this stage, still opposes any talks with the Haqqani’s, and in fact, wants it to be targeted. There are also pressures within the Afghan Taliban groups not to be left out of the reconciliation, be it the Hekmatyar led Hizbe Islami or Mullah Omar faction representing the Afghan Taliban. The real goal ultimately is the isolation of Al Qaeda from its supporting network, and the question of if this can be best achieved at this stage through the use of force or a political approach, and Pakistan’s role.

At present the US military and political strategy appears to be working hand in hand, along side with emphasis on a regional approach. Evaluating the geopolitical environment last year PoliTact had noted: “One can see that each international actor is testing multiple strategies, some perhaps contradictory, as part of an effort to check and counter the moves of the other actors prior to eventual peace talks.” However, that was last year, continuing with the same strategy will only prolong the war and its reach, and develop further doubt regarding US objective, amongst the stakeholders.

The Future of NATO

NATO’s credibility and future are clearly on the line in Afghanistan. The preservation of the alliance appears to be the most serious US interest at stake in Afghanistan. If NATO fails in Afghanistan, the security structure of Europe that has existed since World War II will also be threatened. NATO is under strain not only in Afghanistan but also in Europe, and the reasons are connected. Are the threats related to the extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, coupled with Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, enough to keep the coalition together? Or, is it the European dynamics that include the resurgence of Germany and Russia, determine the fate of NATO?

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’ breakup, the emergence of the EU has complicated NATO’s role. Perhaps the best strategy for NATO is the one envisioned by Zbigniew Brzenski: adding NATO-SCO and NATO-CSTO Councils to the already existing NATO-Russia Council. For the time being, however, France and Germany do not seem comfortable with this.

While the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has carried out several joint military exercises, it nevertheless denies that it has a military orientation. A statement issued at the time of its creation emphasized that SCO “is not an alliance directed against other states and regions and it adheres to the principle of openness.” However, some observers still call it the NATO of the East, describing it as a traditional military alliance and a possible counterweight to NATO’s perceived threat to Russia and China. Furthermore, a force that would contain potential conflicts in the region, which could otherwise allow the United States to intervene in neighboring states.

Pakistan or India?

Summing up the above discussion, US-Pakistan relation continue to be plagued by lingering thorny issues which both would like to avoid entirely but have no choice but to confront: first, what to make of the long-term role of China. In addition, As PoliTact has noted in earlier articles, the tactical interests of the two countries via Afghanistan are similar but diverge when it comes to India. Thus, if the US proceeds with its intentions of supporting Pakistan’s security and economic interests in the region, especially as they relate to Central Asia’s energy resources and in dealing with Lashkare Tayyiba (Kashmiri Jihadist), India is bound to feel shortchanged.

On the other hand, if the US continues on its present path towards strengthening its strategic ties with India and no progress on Kashmir issue, Pakistan will be uncooperative, since it is against Indian hegemony in the region. The latter view gains support from General Kiyani’s statements in Brussels earlier this year, which revealed a negative attitude towards any compromise on the part of Pakistan regarding India’s role. Thus, ultimately, the two burning questions regarding the strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan is: will either country give way on the subject of India? And how much leverage can the two counties employ to achieve their objectives?

In an attempt to satisfy all or dillydallying over whose interests it wants to preserve in Afghanistan, in the present zero-sum environment of the region, US risks alienating India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Ultimately compromises will have to be made, and the delicate act of balancing different leverages and interests cannot go on indefinitely.

Tell Us What You Think

Previous articleThe Balance of Power in Central Asia and Kyrgyzstan. The Status of US, Russia, and China Relations
Next articleThe Pressures of the End Game in Afghanistan and Leverages of US and Pakistan