Afghanistan attacks: Were signs of improved US-Pakistan ties just a mirage?
Despite optimism relations were rebounding, the attacks bore the signature of a Pakistan-based group, a reminder, as the US plans to exit Afghanistan, that Pakistan is at best a fickle partner.
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But Ms. Curtis of Heritage says a certain soft-peddling of any accusations against Pakistan is to be expected, since the US is focused on getting relations with Pakistan back on track after last year’s falling out (over the deadly attack on a Pakistani border outpost by US forces, and earlier the stealth raid into Pakistan territory that ended in the killing of Osama bin Laden). “We’re unlikely to see any direct blaming of Pakistan [for attacks in Afghanistan] because the US is most interested in getting the supply routes back open,” she says. “The priority right now is to get relations back on a functional level.”Skip to next paragraph
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Pakistan had been the route of choice for supplying US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government closed its borders to NATO shipments after the border outpost incident in November. Another so-called “northern route” has been opened up that passes through Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but US military officials say the new route is much costlier, with the cost per truck container now an estimated $17,000, compared to $7,000 per container shipped through Pakistan.
The Pakistani parliament recently agreed to a resetting of relations with the US that would allow a reopening of the border to NATO shipments, but some of the conditions the parliament calls for will never be accepted by the US.
One is an end to all drone strikes in Pakistan. With Pakistan refusing to take its own action against the border-region safe havens from which both Afghan and Pakistani militant groups operate, the US will refuse to give up what it says has been one of its most effective counter-terrorist tactics.
Still, US officials and some Pakistani officials say they expect differences to be resolved to allow the NATO supply routes to reopen.
One factor that some experts say may actually contribute to an easing of US-Pakistan tensions is the strategic partnership agreement the US is expected to conclude with Afghanistan in the coming weeks. The reasoning? If Pakistan is convinced that the US plans to remain a presence in the region, it will be less focused on its traditional interest in seeing Afghanistan remain unstable and unattractive to Pakistan’s arch-rival India.
“A US strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan will be a positive factor because it will send a good signal to both Pakistan and the Taliban that the US is here to stay and isn’t about to abandon a vital national security interest,” Curtis says.
Over all, she adds, “It will help reinforce the reality with Pakistan that its thinking on Afghanistan is wrong.”
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