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Beneath US-Pakistani tension, a new cooperation

Joint efforts include setting up coordination centers along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

(Page 2 of 3)

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.

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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

Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak has gone so far as to propose a joint border force of American, Pakistani, and Afghan soldiers that could engage terrorists without regard for international borders. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, called it "a great idea."

"This will increase honesty and trust," says Gen. Abdul Zahir Azimi, an Afghan Army spokesman.

While Mr. Wardak's suggestion has not been officially endorsed in Washington or Islamabad, the process of military-to-military cooperation is taking place daily in an outpost on the rugged border near the Khyber Pass – the main thoroughfare between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Khyber Border Coordination Center is both the biggest test – and the biggest hope – of this nascent cross-border collaboration. In it, Afghan, Pakistani, and American soldiers sit side by side, tasked with one goal: to better synchronize the operations of the three armies.

"It is your left hand talking to your right hand," says Milley, whose Combined Joint Task Force 101 provides American troops for the facility.