Beneath US-Pakistani tension, a new cooperation
Joint efforts include setting up coordination centers along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Amid stories of missile strikes and firefights between Pakistani and American forces on the Afghan border, Brig. Gen. Mark Milley has his own to tell.Skip to next paragraph
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Two weeks ago, insurgents in Pakistan lobbed mortars at US forces in Afghanistan. When the Americans alerted the Pakistani Army, its response was unambiguous. Not only could the US fire back, but Pakistani soldiers acted as spotters.
It is one small example of how Pakistan is starting to cooperate more with the US and Afghanistan in fighting the insurgency in its tribal areas. Attempts to find solutions jointly are being made across a wide spectrum, from the opening of border coordination centers shared by the three nations' armies to talks among tribal leaders.
The shift is born of a growing recognition in the Pakistani Army of the danger of the insurgency, as well as thawing relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There are suspicions to overcome – going back decades, in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The council, or "jirga," of Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders in Islamabad, Pakistan, that ended Tuesday is a sign of strengthening cross-border ties that have long been strained. Yet the US campaign of unilaterally firing missiles at militant targets inside Pakistan is evidence of lingering mistrust.
Still, both regional experts and General Milley, deputy commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force 101 in Afghanistan, say greater regional cooperation is central to defeating an insurgency that pays little attention toborders.
"This [Afghan] insurgency is only half the insurgency," says Milley. "What we have to do is work closely with the sovereign nation of Pakistan and the sovereign nation of Afghanistan to have success in full."
Wary neighbors reach out
At the two-day "mini-jirga" concluded Tuesday, prominent Pashtun political and tribal leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan discussed ways to stem militancy. Both sides agreed to seek talks with the Taliban, though that option was favored more by Pakistani delegates than Afghan ones.
The 50-man mini-jirga was the first follow-up to the grand jirga held in Kabul last August, despite plans to hold mini-jirgas every two months thereafter. Improving relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have created space for the mini-jirgas to resume.
"The mini-jirga is a welcome signal," says Aimal Khan, a tribal expert at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad.