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Beneath US-Pakistani tension, a new cooperation

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

(Page 3 of 3)

The facility near the Khyber Pass opened two months ago. It is the first of six planned coordination centers, designed as nodes for communication between Pakistani and coalition forces along the border.

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"These centers are enormously important," says Lisa Curtis, a South Asia analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "They're the only way we're going to start to get control over the border."

While their functions are limited – they will do no intelligence-gathering, for example – there is a need for simply establishing some measure of transparency among the three armies.

For example, America's unilateral missile strikes in Pakistan are partially because the US distrusts the Pakistani Army, says Professor Hussain. The Central Intelligence Agency has alleged that rogue elements of the Pakistani Army support some militant organizations.

"The US is not telling Pakistan [about its missile attacks] on the suspicion that the intelligence might be compromised," says Hussain.

Mistrust remains

Indeed, in many respects Pakistan and the US are far from synchronized. American officials are increasingly focusing on militant networks that Pakistan has long cultivated as proxy armies against Afghanistan, such as those of Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

"We have not seen an unambiguous policy toward the Taliban" from Pakistan, says Ms. Curtis.

To the contrary, recent debates in the Pakistani parliament condemned US missile strikes and revealed a significant degree of sympathy for those elements of the militancy not seen to be a threat to Pakistan.

"Every country operates in its own self-interest," says Milley.

But he sees progress among the Pakistani generals he meets. "There is an increasing recognition of a mutual threat," says Milley. "Six or eight months ago, they might have looked at the problem differently."

The first time he met with generals from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the autumn of 2007, the groups sat on opposite sides of the table and Pakistani officials hardly addressed Afghans, who sat in silence.

Last month, Afghans and Pakistanis were sprinkled around the table and "all sides were talking vigorously," he adds. "Clearly there was respect."

This is the hope, says Curtis. "What we saw in the past was constant accusations: Pakistan blaming NATO for not doing its job, and Afghanistan blaming Pakistan," she says.

"As they sit together, this will build trust – they will share information and get involved in operational planning," she continues.

Adds military analyst Hussain: "If you launch coordinated strikes, and all stakeholders know what's going on, you are not going to have as much hue and cry as you do now."

Shahan Mufti contributed from Islamabad, Pakistan.