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Opinion

America's way out of dependence on Pakistan: Iran

America’s dependence on Pakistan is a key source of regional instability. The only way out is to find an efficient alternative supply route for NATO supplies into Afghanistan. The Chabahar Road through Iran provides that alternative – if Washington will consider its benefits.

By Neil Padukone / July 24, 2012

Soldiers escort a convoy of trucks carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan at the Pakistan border town of Chaman July 16. Op-ed contributor Neil Padukone suggests the Chabahar Road through Iran as an alternative supply route. 'By weaning Washington off its dependence on Pakistan and even reorienting Afghanistan’s future, Iran may be an important solution to the problems that cost America blood and treasure.'

Saeed Ali Achakzai/Reuters

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Recently Pakistan agreed to reopen the supply routes that connect Afghanistan with NATO supplies from the Arabian Sea. The decision was made after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized for US airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers seven months ago. The announcement seems like a ray of hope after a line of scandals that have marred the US-Pakistan relationship. But in many ways, this is just an upturn in an otherwise vicious cycle: America’s very dependence on Pakistan is the key source of regional instability. The only way out is to find an efficient alternative.

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After the toppling of the Taliban in 2001, Pakistan became America’s main overland link to Central Asia. As a result, Washington has relied on Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s military headquarters, for access to Afghanistan. In fact, this dependence has existed for decades, from America’s efforts to balance, and later fight, the Soviets until today’s war in Afghanistan.

The problem is that Rawalpindi makes use of America’s dependence on its geography to secure economic and military aid, while surreptitiously backing the militants it is supposed to be fighting – from the Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba and even segments of Al Qaeda. The existence of these groups, in turn, forces America to rely on Pakistan even more. Along with fears about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, this dependence limits Washington’s ability to decisively deal with the Pakistani military’s double game.

As Hussain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, has written, as far back as 1947, Pakistan’s leaders saw that “Pakistan could extract a good price from the United States…in view of Pakistan’s strategic location.”

Rawalpindi’s stance is unlikely to change, as the Pakistani army also supports these militants in an effort to ensure Pakistan’s domestic cohesiveness. The Baluch, Pashtun, and Kashmiri ethnic groups straddle Pakistan’s borders with Iran, Afghanistan, and India. Their calls for self-determination challenge Pakistan’s internal security and national defense.

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