Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

What Pakistan Is Going to Demand in Washington

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on March 24, 2010

As the U.S. Military prepares for another Marjah-style offensive in Kandahar Province later in the year, the Obama administration finds itself in a hole over how to conclude the Afghan war in a successful manner.  Analysts and government officials have long argued that defeating the Taliban cannot be achieved through military power alone, yet Washington is still reluctant to engage in direct peace talks with insurgent leaders.  So with a crossroads full steam ahead, maybe this is the reason why President Obama is reaching out to the Pakistanis this week.

On March 24, a high-level Pakistani delegation will find itself traveling to the United States with a warm American welcome.  While the meeting is being sold to the press as a fresh start between Washington and the Pakistani Government after nine years of give-and-take (the administration is using the phrase “strategic dialogue”), the main mission will most certainly be how to secure Afghanistan and keep the Taliban under wraps.

The United States has reason to be optimistic.  After all, Pakistan recently captured the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 commander- Mullah Baradar- in Karachi, a possible sign that Islamabad may be changing its tune towards Islamic militants in general.  Yet this would be naïve, even if this naivety is what we would like to believe.  Geopolitics is a more likely reason for Baradar’s detention.  With a post-American Afghanistan closer by the day, Pakistan wants to make sure it comes out on top, and arresting a top enemy combatant is the surest way to do that.

Obsessed with India’s increased stature in South Asia, Islamabad is intent on sponsoring an Afghan Government that is friendly (if not supportive) to Pakistani interests.  And with Baradar’s demise, the Pakistanis can come to Washington with some valuable ammunition.  Pakistan’s message to the United States will probably be something like this: ‘help us achieve Pakistani superiority in Afghanistan, and we will help reign in the Taliban leadership in exchange.’

Like it or not, Pakistan still holds most of the cards. It’s pretty clear that the United States will be unable to pacify- or at least diminish the violence- in Afghanistan without Islamabad’s support. In fact, many of America’s recent successes against the Taliban have been given to them on a silver-platter by the Pakistanis. Without intelligence sharing from the Pakistani Army and the ISI, Baradar would probably still be at large in Karachi, free to move wherever he chooses.

In light of all this, I hope the meeting between the U.S. and Pakistan goes well.  With Israel giving the United States trouble over Jewish settlements, and with Russia and China dragging their heels on a new sanctions resolution on Iran (as well as Turkey and Brazil), the last thing Washington needs is another foreign-policy frustration.

Washington needs to make unpleasant sacrifices if it wants to at least get this war under control.  Ensuring that their interests will be represented in any future Afghan Government may be the best way to convince Pakistan to expand the fight against Al’Qaeda and its ilk.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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