Obama and Sharif have differences, but cooperation will be key to Afghan stability.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington and his meeting with President Barack Obama reopened lines of communication broken over the last few years by drones and commando raids. The atmospherics were good; the two had a longer than planned one-on-one. But the visit produced no breakthroughs in what has become an increasingly dysfunctional relationship. The United States and Pakistan are more opponents than allies, but it is important to keep the lines of communication open and Sharif’s visit will provide a base for future efforts to find common areas of cooperation, especially as the situation in Afghanistan clarifies in 2014.
A decade ago, George W. Bush embraced Pervez Musharraf as America’s top ally in the war against terror. In the years that followed, Bush and Obama provided Pakistan with over $25 billion in military and economic aid, including 18 F-16 jet fighters and a Perry Class frigate. The goal was to fight al-Qaeda. Only Israel got more aid from America in the last decade.
In practice, however, America and its NATO allies are fighting
a proxy war with Pakistan in Afghanistan. Washington, backed by the United Nations, supports the Karzai government while Islamabad backs Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban. A secret NATO report leaked last year, titled “The State of the Taliban”, held that Pakistan and the ISI are the critical patrons of the Taliban insurgency. According to over 27,000 interrogations of captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, the ISI not only provides safe haven, sanctuary and funds for the Taliban, its officers meet regularly to plan strategy against the NATO with Omar’s Quetta Shura. Without ISI help, the Taliban would not be the force they are today.
Sharif backed the Afghan Taliban the last time he was in office and rebuffed repeated US requests to try to end its support for al-Qaeda. This year, he has promised to try to encourage the Taliban to come to the peace table with Kabul. Releases of Taliban commanders, arrested in the past because they wanted dialogue, have been carefully staged to give an appearance of substance to the effort. Washington has every reason to encourage Pakistan to use its enormous leverage with the Taliban to open a dialogue with Kabul.