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.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has made significant efforts to reach out to Afghanistan since he took office last month. Not only did he offer Afghan President Hamid Karzai the olive branch of an invitation to his inauguration, but his government has initiated a new dialogue with Kabul.
This contrasts strikingly to the previous regime of Pervez Musharraf. "Musharraf and Karzai … looked at each other as adversaries," says Rifaat Hussain, a military analyst at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.
For decades, Afghanistan and Pakistan have viewed each other with deep suspicion. Pakistan resents Afghanistan's strong friendship with archrival India and fears that such an alliance – if allowed to grow – could result in Pakistan being surrounded by enemies.
Afghans say Pakistan has prevented this by repeatedly interfering in Afghanistan's domestic affairs – for example, its support of the Taliban in the 1990s and the mujahideen before that.
At an Oct. 22 meeting in Islamabad with his Afghan counterpart, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: "We have been able to overcome the hiccups of the past."
Efforts at military cooperation