NEW YORK: As the Afghan endgame looms, Pakistan and US are having differing and even irreconcilable aims in Afghanistan, with Islamabad pushing to increase its leverage in Kabul even at the cost of cutting out Washington.
The Americans are seeking a strong and centralised Afghan government commanding a large army that can control its territory. Pakistan is pressing for a loosely governed neighbour where it can influence events through Taliban proxies, the New York Times reported citing top US and Pakistani officials.
The Pakistanis are nervous of the US aims to have a strong Afghanistan and Islamabad is pressing for a small Afghan army and wants to play a crucial role after the American exit from the country.
The NYT said that Islamabad has sought to improve its leverage in Afghanistan by threatening to cut down CIA operations within its territory, cracking down on Taliban leaders to coerce their cooperation and befriend President Hamid Karzai.
The paper said the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, country’s powerful army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and head of the spy agency ISI, was the latest iteration of this new Pak-Afghan relationship.
“This was the most public of a number of visits to Afghanistan by Kayani in the past year and American diplomats both in Kabul and Islamabad declined to comment on the visit and appear to know little about the intention of the two nations to unveil a joint commission with considerable fanfare as a vehicle to end the war,” the NYT said.
Americans have been coaxing the Afghan and Pakistan leadership to talk to each other, but not at the cost of keeping the US out of loop or of concocting solution that are against its interest, the US officials said.
“The latest visit is an attempt to sidestep the US in order to safeguard Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan,” the paper said.
Pentagon officials said the differences evolved around which Taliban factions should be included in any settlement, the role of India –
an ally of the US but the enemy of Pakistan, and the size of the new Afghan army, which the Americans want big and Pakistani want small.
The officials said that the overall commander in Afghanistan, Gen David H Petraeus, is determined to batter the Taliban as much as possible, a policy that the Pakistanis disagree with.
But the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has more tolerance for the Pakistan point of view.
The impression of the US leaving Pakistan out in the cold is particularly disconcerting to General Kayani because he was granted a three-year extension of his term last July by his Generals, partly on the ground that he would win a seat for Pakistan at the Afghan negotiating table.
The Pakistan and US differences in particular are more pronounced as Washington wants to keep up the pressure on the network led by Sirajjudin Haqqani, a long-time asset of Pakistan.
The recent demand by Pakistan for the US to reduce the number of CIA agents and curb its drones program is the “lowest point in memory” that the relations between the two countries have plunged.
“There was never a level of trust,” said a former American military official who served in a senior position in Pakistan. “I’m convinced now they don’t want our help.”
While the two countries are not ready to cut off completely, politicians on both sides are upset that the billions of dollars poured into Pakistan have not yielded results.