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What Pakistan wants: US aid

Flow of US aid and presence of its troops serve Pakistan's long-range aim of thwarting its archenemy, India.

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Ultimately, Pakistan – particularly now that it's trying to recover from devastating floods – understands that it needs the US for economic support far more than the US needs Pakistan. That's a strong pressure for a reversion to the status quo.

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"It's been this way for the longest time: They help us, they work against us – whether it's ground troops or [Pakistani intelligence]," says Marvin Weinbaum, who was a Pakistan and Afghanistan analyst at the US State Department until 2003 and is now a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

"I don't think it's possible to make a general statement here," Mr. Weinbaum says. "There's evidence of Pakistan both facilitating our operations and facilitating the insurgents."

Where Pakistan's bloody past figures in

In the 1980s, Pakistan's military government and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence service, with US assistance, nurtured the mujahideen resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89).

After the Soviets were driven out of the country, the US turned its focus away from the region. Pakistan, with a strong Islamist identity, and worried that India – the state it so bloodily separated from in 1947 – was a threat to its independence and ambitions, turned to the mostly ethnic-Pashtun Taliban, supporting the group in its takeover of the country as a reliable proxy and enemy of India.

Since 9/11, despite improved ties with the US and massive aid inflows to the country (Pakistan will receive about $2 billion from America this year alone), little appears to have occurred to convince Pakistan that the Taliban – either in the home-grown or Afghan version – are a greater threat to its interests than India.

Pakistan's dispute with India over Kashmir continues to simmer. And elements of Pakistan's intelligence services appeared to provide aid to both an attack on India's embassy in Kabul and to the militants who murdered more than 160 people in Mumbai (Bombay), both in 2008.

What happens if the Taliban lose?

Analysts say Pakistan's generals fear a conclusive Taliban defeat will lead to a reduction in US interest and aid, and so have supported the group's three main Afghan factions – the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, and the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – to give themselves leverage in deciding Afghanistan's future.

"The legacy of the Soviet era is still being lived by Pakistan," says retired Gen. Talat Masood, now a security analyst. "America has abandoned Pakistan [before] – they may leave behind a Pakistan that is unstable."

He says the Pakistani military establishment provides sanctuary to pro-Pakistan militant groups to give itself leverage in any postpullout scenario and as a hedge against a repetition of what they see as America's abandonment of the region after the Soviet withdrawal.

"So that's why it's very important for America not to push Pakistan to a position where [Pakistan has] to antagonize every segment of the Pashtuns, including the Haqqani group, which may turn inward, toward Pakistan."

That last portion of his comment holds out some hope that US and Pakistani interests may become more closely aligned – someday. In a sense, Masood says, Pakistan wants to bring the Taliban in its midst to heel – but just not yet.

"Ultimately, Pakistan will have to establish its own writ, but it's a question of when it's more appropriate," he says, with an eye toward Afghanistan. Long term, he points out, "it is unacceptable that militants occupy your territory."