Pakistan Reopens Afghan Supply Routes, but Larger Diplomatic Crises Loom

Pakistan's decision to reopen the overland supply routes into Afghanistan may be a slight boost for Washington-Islamabad ties, but there's much more wrangling ahead as the U.S. steps up its plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014

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Athar Hussain / Reuters

Pakistan's national flag is mounted on top of a tanker used to carry fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan, as drivers sit nearby at a compound in Karachi on July 3, 2012

It never hurts to say sorry. That’s the trite lesson behind Pakistan’s confirmation on Tuesday that it was reopening ground supply routes into Afghanistan used by the U.S. and its allies to provision NATO forces there. Following a phone call with her Pakistani counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement that amounted to something of a public apology for the U.S. role in a shootout along the Afghan border last November that claimed the lives of 24 Pakistani soldiers. That incident prompted weeks of heated protests in Pakistan, reinforced by a blockade of trucks conveying NATO matériel into Afghanistan and marked yet another climactic chapter in the turgid chronicle of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

In recent days, U.S. and Pakistani officials have been engaged in talks involving Pakistan’s newly installed Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf — his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was forced out of power by the country’s Supreme Court last month. The two sides seem to have brokered a workable deal: with the Pakistani routes closed, the U.S. and its NATO allies had to pursue far costlier avenues of transport, mostly via rail through Central Asia. With the cheaper routes now reopened, the U.S., according to Reuters, will pay Pakistan some $1.8 billion in military-aid arrears earlier withheld by a Congress disgruntled with Pakistani conduct following the American capture and killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad last year. The Pakistanis, meanwhile, won’t levy a $5,000-per-truck toll they had earlier threatened to exact on U.S. convoys to Afghanistan. While a welcome boost for ties between Washington and Islamabad, the deal could spark a domestic backlash within Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment is high and often channeled against an unpopular civilian government.

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Clinton’s statement following her conversation with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar aims to soothe Pakistani feelings. It begins:

I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.

But, despite the platitudes that follow in Clinton’s statement, appealing to shared Pakistani and American commitments, a considerable gulf remains between the two. The subtext of the Salala incident — where, according to some reports, Pakistani border forces had fired upon NATO troops in Afghanistan — lies entirely in the U.S.’s profound doubts over Pakistan’s role in the war against the Taliban. Clinton’s awkward grammar after the phone call (“The Foreign Minister and I were reminded that our troops — Pakistani and American — are in a fight against a common enemy”) belies the widespread conviction that Pakistan is playing a double game, championing its efforts on the front lines fighting al-Qaeda while, at the very least, turning a blind eye to the presence of the Afghan Taliban and the shadowy Haqqani network, a fulcrum for South Asian terrorism, on its soil.

The overland supply routes are important not only for taking provisions to NATO forces in Afghanistan but now also for expediting the international coalition’s withdrawal by the end of 2014. How that endgame unfolds will shape the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. At present, signs point to rockier times ahead: Pakistan’s continued tolerance of the Haqqani network is compounded by its perennial unwillingness to crack down on the Quetta shura — a grouping of Afghan Taliban elders plotting their insurgency’s campaigns in Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistani Baluchistan. The opaque, domineering Pakistani military remains an institution unto itself, casting a large shadow over a fledgling democratic government that’s already dogged by an energetic, opportunistic opposition and an activist Supreme Court. Pakistanis bristle at the American drone campaign, which has launched hundreds of strikes over the past few years on suspected Taliban targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

(MORE: Pakistan’s Supreme Problem)

Unsurprisingly, such a volatile political environment leads to muddled strategy. Pakistan’s seeming inability to abandon its decades-old collaboration with the Taliban has vast consequences, as outlined by Ashley Tellis at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Amid the chaos that emerged after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan settled on supporting the Afghan Taliban as its strategic instrument for securing Kabul’s compliance with its objectives. Although the Taliban were not always dependable surrogates on these matters, they appeared better than other Afghan rivals, and hence Islamabad — despite its denials — has stuck by them to this day. Whatever the intended benefits of this strategy, it has alienated both the broader Afghan populace and the government in Kabul, which now views Pakistan as a habitually hostile neighbor. It has also undermined the U.S.-led international-stabilization effort in Afghanistan, as well as hopes for a peaceful security transition — not to mention infuriated Washington, which now views Pakistan as a perfidious partner. And it has provoked heightened regional rivalry involving Afghanistan’s neighbors, especially Iran, India, the Central Asian republics and Russia, all of whom are determined to prevent a Pakistani-supported Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

That overarching sense of Pakistan being a “perfidious partner” has narrowed the willingness of Washington to entertain Pakistani concerns in the wider region. Not so long ago, the U.S. may have tried to delicately coax India, Pakistan’s archrival, to keep its growing economic and political footprint in Afghanistan subdued. Now American officials are encouraging the opposite. The U.S. is eager to get out of Afghanistan, but it’s not keen on letting Pakistan call the shots as it did less than 20 years ago. And it will take much more than one symbolic phone call to resolve the tensions that underlie this fundamental difference of opinion.

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23 comments
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Pakistan
Pakistan

No matter how much you thump your chests and talk about 'honor', etc. Pakistan is dependent on Aid and the US holds the purse strings. Reopening the NATO supply lines had to happen.

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Nowadays, it is the first resort of the hypocrite - Dr Samuel Johnson

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

Don't forget that Karzai must leave office in 2014, and while he might promote his brother Abdul Qayum or someone else close to him as a replacement, there are also the Afghanistan National Front (General Dostum), the National Coalition  (Abdullah Abdullah) and who knows how many others that will be jumping into a volatile domestic political situation -- just when the US is (supposedly) pulling out.

Meanwhile Russian President Putin  is offering financial assistance to Pakistan and has scheduled a visit to Pakistan in September, and Iran is completing its portion of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline -- hold onto your seats, it'll be an E ticket ride.

Redoubt South
Redoubt South

If Obama really wanted to win reelection, he'd get us the hell out of Afghanistan before November. In fact, had he kept his campaign promises in 2008, this war would have already been wrapped up and NATO back home again. 

Maj Variola
Maj Variola

So  the USG has something on Raja Pervez Ashraf.  From wiretaps, or simply $ to him.  All this shows is that the Pakis are still pwned by US and neither appreciates the sweet targets they have now given the Partisans.

PS how's that Pak / CIA "vaccination" doctor doing in jail? 

Folks in glass empires shouldn't fly drones

sha_g
sha_g

Americans are even bigger idiots than I thought if they think they can snap their fingers and give India the green light and the Indians would dive into Afghanistan headlong, please, this is a tough neighborhood, and if the US cannot placate the Afghans, what makes you think India wants to rush where angels fear to tread? India learnt its lesson well from its adventure in Sri Lanka. It is more interested in creating headaches for Pakistan, than a direct involvement in Afghan affairs because Afghans abhor outsiders in uniforms and with guns, Taliban slit a few Indian throats and that would be the end of the Indian adventure in Afghanistan.

It would be easy to call for a jihad against the Hindu occupation of Afghanistan, like the communists were once opposed.

Instead India is happy taking a perceived back seat in Afghanistan, while churning the vat, to keep the region in flames to keep Pakistan occupied so it does not focus on Kashmir. It has its proxy militia in Kabul anyways in the form of the Northern Alliance  officials including Karzai, himself a huge fan of India.

Once America leaves, it should leave completely and we only hope the Afghans would place their best hopes in the ballot and not the bullet, for this many Islamic nations will need to come together and bear pressure on all factions in Afghanistan to deal with their problems.

crbob
crbob

I'm so sorry, here is besides the 3 billion a year we give you, here is a few billion of our taxpayers money they want you to have as an apology........

sha_g
sha_g

since when is it your money stupid Indian?

Walter Peterson
Walter Peterson

While working in Green Bay WI, I needed a room. Unfortunately, I picked a Motel owned and operated by a Paki. He double charged my credit card and then informed me the card was "over" my limit. It took me 3 months in order to reciprocate the funds "stolen" by that Paki. Much the same, it seems, when the Pakistani Government deals with the U.S.

sha_g
sha_g

Stupid Indian, now get back to the Slurpee machine.

Amit Singh
Amit Singh

I cannot believe Hillary acquiesced to Pakistan's demand although I agree its only working to our advantage. Pakistan never apologized for sheltering Osama Bin Laden and other AL Qaeda commanders. Hillary should've squeezed the aid more instead.

Herb Rubinstein
Herb Rubinstein

I heard she actually got down on her knees and performed a sex act on him as well.

bahadur227
bahadur227

Have you watched the clock?Because it is at 12 o/c and you are mindless at that time

James Mooney
James Mooney

Al Quada left ten years ago. Osama is dead. So why are we spending trillions in Afghanistan while real Americans are going broke and getting No help?

Oh yeah, it's so we can kiss the butt of the Pakistani terrorist government. 

Herb Rubinstein
Herb Rubinstein

NO

It is totally for the benefit of the Military Industrial Complex.

Always has been

The minute we leave that hideous contry, the Taliban will take over....cause that is what the idiot people want....let them enjoy.

sha_g
sha_g

because Afghanistan can quickly create a dozen more Bin Ladins....

manofsan
manofsan

 Those who cultivated Taliban and AlQaeda in the period leading upto the 9-11 attacks are still alive and well -- in Islamabad.

Those who gave shelter and sanctuary to Taliban and Bin Laden for the past decade following the 9-11 attacks are still alive and well -- in Islamabad.

When the US runs away from Afghanistan, it will turn the clock back to September 10, 2001 -- setting up a repeat of history all over again. When you run from an enemy, pretending he's gone away when he really hasn't, then that enemy is going to bite you in the butt. You can run from reality, but it will come looking for you before long.

sha_g
sha_g

how can you be on a computer and yet be so ignorant....before 911 even the US Quasi accepted the Taliban, Bill Clinton sent Bill Richardson to negotiate a pipeline deal with Mullah Omar, before 911 Saudis, UAE and Pakistan recognized the Taliban regime because it did not threaten the US, no one knew it was providing a haven to Al Qaeda at the time, only the US suspected it and fired cruise missiles a a training camp after the USS Cole incident.

I bet your'e  stupid Indian, deliberately distorting history. 

manofsan
manofsan

 No, the Saudis cut off relations with Taliban after they refused to extradite Bin Laden, which was much before the 9-11 attacks. That Bill Clinton was soft on AlQaeda and Taliban is well portrayed in the movie "Road to 9-11".

Pakistan created the Taliban, so of course it recognized their regime, since Pakistan was responsible for putting them into power. Obviously everyone knew that Taliban were harboring Bin Laden, and they themselves admitted it when confronted.

Pakistan continues to support Taliban and the Haqqani network who have taken the lives of many US troops. US taxpayer money is going to Pakistan to help it execute US soldiers.

Guest
Guest

How are we kissing their butt with all our drone strikes? I'm pretty sure they don't like that. Do we kiss Israel's butt? Yes. Pakistan's? I don't think so. Oh, and the "al qaeda and osama gone" logic is quite naiive and simplistic. It's still a hotbed of terrorism, which we we have to deal with in some way or another. Trust me, I'd like to get out of there sooner than later too (and focus our resources elsewhere), but I'm just saying it's not that simple. 

Herb Rubinstein
Herb Rubinstein

You are an idiot....why do we have to deal with any of it....you must be a salesman for the Military Industrial Conflict.

They coming over here on their donkeys??You seem be have swallowed the American line hook and sinker....you probably believe that our glorious military is actually defending our freedom, when in reality, they have caused far more harm than good....we are despised around the world, sir....and that is the direct result of our War Mongering Government

Guest
Guest

I'm an idiot? Lol. Ok, Mr. Wild Inferences. Maybe you should read what I wrote again, but you go ahead and think that.