In the wake of killing of al Qaeda mastermind in Pakistan, question has resurfaced whether an ally of the U.S. has been using extremism to ensure its strategic depth in its neighborhood. This issue has become more pronounced against the backdrop of a debate in America about possible pull out from Afghanistan. It will take some time to see the results of reexamination of U.S. ties with Pakistan which has been prompted by suspicion about latter’s full partnership in counterterrorism endeavors.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been marked by twists and turns at various phases of history. During 1990 Pakistan’s relations with world’s superpower became icy when the U.S. decided to punish by withholding the delivery of F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan had already paid for. The reason was American belief that Pakistan was clandestinely pursuing the expansion of nuclear weapon program, which was demonstrated in May, 1998 with series of nuclear tests.
Pakistan announced that it exploded nuclear devices to counter existential threat from India, its immediate neighbor but rival since birth. Indo-Pak rivalry has never been so intense than since November, 2008 when 10 terrorists from Lashker-e-Taiba committed a three-day rampage killing 173 and wounding 308 people in Mumbai. India has consistently demanded that these terrorists based in Pakistan be brought to justice but of no avail.
The revelation of Osama’s safe haven in Pakistan has substantiated Indian charges that the former has been providing shelter to terrorists. India too faces allegations from Pakistan that it fosters extremism in Baluchistan to avenge the atrocities by the terrorists. Apparently both India and Pakistan have been using militancy as their strategic hedge against each other. This reality is likely to present greater challenges to tackle terrorism in South Asia in future.
Afghanistan needs to be stabilized with a strong government in Kabul where its own security forces can enforce law and order in the country. Lack of security has provided rooms for maneuverability by various terrorists groups like Afghan Taliban, among others. These groups are assisted by Pakistan seeing the possibility of their use as proxies in future when the U.S. will have withdrawn its forces. Both India and Pakistan have deeper interests in Afghanistan as common neighbors.
Currently, the Kabul government is more sympathetic to India and Pakistan’s support to Afghan Taliban, who are fighting against the establishment is motivated by desire to use their influence as strategic depth in Afghanistan. The U.S. is engaged to coerce the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiation table and settle peace with Kabul regime. Using Pakistan’s leverage on Afghan Taliban to its advantage will be crucial to achieve this American goal.
Considering this the Obama administration can hardly abandon Pakistan though some Congressmen have continuously insisted that American aid to Pakistan should be suspended. But whether the U.S. government can persuade the Pakistanis to become a full partner in Afghanistan is uncertain. Pakistanis’ full partnership is their refusal to provide sanctuary to Afghan Taliban.