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Page last updated at 07:13 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 08:13 UK

Pakistan's prickly foreign relations

Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid on why relations between the US and Pakistani militaries are at their worst since the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Site of bomb blast at Danish embassy in Islamabad in June 2008

There are now an average of 100 terrorist attacks a week compared to 60 attacks last year


In recent weeks there has been a crescendo of international criticism aimed at Pakistan for cutting peace deals with the Pakistani Taleban on its territory, that give both Pakistani and Afghan Taleban the freedom to cross the border and attack Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Senior US officials and legislators, Nato commanders, European leaders, the UN and the Afghan government have voiced their anger and frustration.

At the same time, relations between two critical allies in the war on terror - the US military and the Pakistan army - seem to be at their worst since the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Pakistani troops are pulling out of all the tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan that are home to Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders and thousands of their fighters, according to senior Nato military officers and diplomats in Kabul.

The Taleban now virtually rule over the seven tribal agencies that make up the Federal Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata).

Moreover they are making dramatic inroads into the settled areas of the North West Frontier Province. The peace deals are allowing the Taleban to cross into Afghanistan in ever increasing numbers.

This is a source of great frustration to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is under severe international pressure to do more to improve governance and fight corruption if his government is to receive more aid at a high level donors conference in Paris on 12 June.

Mountain war

''I am asking the world to concentrate on ending the sanctuaries for the terrorists,'' said President Karzai.

Soldier in Balochistan
The military has been fighting separatists in Balochistan

''The war is not in every village but it is continuing because of the sanctuaries outside Afghanistan and we have to succeed in convincing the world to shut them down."

He said the increasing tempo of the Taleban insurgency in the south and east of his country was making it more difficult to provide people with the security needed for improving governance and faster reconstruction.

President Karzai said what is needed is a joint strategy by Pakistan and Afghanistan, but he is still looking for a viable partner on the Pakistani side to plan and conduct such a strategy with.

Nato commanders are further frustrated by the fact that Pakistani generals have told their American counterparts that not only are they pulling the army out of Fata, but they are unwilling to allow the army to be retrained or re-equipped by the Americans to fight the necessary counter-insurgency mountain war on its western borders with Afghanistan.

Instead the bulk of the Pakistan army will remain deployed on its eastern border and train for any possible threats from its traditional enemy India - wars that have always been fought on the plains of Punjab.

Over 80% of the $10bn in aid Pakistan has received from Washington since 9/11 has gone directly to the military and much of it has been used to buy expensive weapon systems for the Indian front, rather than the small ticket items needed for counter-insurgency.

Benazir Bhutto at her last election meeting in Rawalpindi
Ms Bhutto's death leaves a vacuum in Pakistan's shaky political system

Nevertheless Pakistan will continue to deploy its 100,000 strong paramilitary forces along its long, porous border with Afghanistan.

The US military is now providing training and equipment to the Frontier Corps, the principle paramilitary force which is poorly trained and equipped.

Pakistan has lost more than 1,000 paramilitary and regular soldiers since the army launched its first offensive against the Pakistani Taleban in 2004 and the army is badly shaken with low morale.

The peace deals with the extremists have allowed for increased Taleban attacks in Afghanistan.

The number from the Pakistani side of the border into Afghanistan doubled between March and April this year, compared to the same time span last year.

There are now an average of 100 terrorist attacks a week compared to 60 attacks last year.

Nato officials also report a dramatic increase in the number of Pakistanis, Arabs and others nationalities now fighting alongside the Afghan Taleban in Afghanistan.

'Determined to win'

One result of the deals in Fata became visible when 30 journalists were invited to an unprecedented press conference on 23 May in South Waziristan agency held by Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taleban and the main host for Afghan Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders in FATA.

The journalists saw few signs of the Pakistani military while the Taleban were re-occupying army check posts that had been abandoned.

President Pervez Musharraf
Mr Musharraf's support in parliament has dwindled

At the June donors conference President Karzai will ask for $50bn commitment for the next few years although such funds are unlikely to materialise.

Major aid donors are demanding that he gets tougher with drug lords and corrupt Afghan officials.

''Karzai has to do more for himself and convince the Afghan people he is determined to win this war to rebuild the nation," said a Western ambassador in Kabul.

Next year there will be presidential elections and there is already intense speculation in Kabul as to who all will stand against President Karzai.

There are attempts to forge alliances among both the president's fellow Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns so that a common candidate to oppose him can be agreed upon.

President Karzai is confident he can beat off any challenge, but he still lacks a team to run his election campaign and lacks an agenda to offer the people.

At the same time he is acutely aware that by being an incumbent president Afghan people will judge him more by his past achievements or lack of them, than what he tells them he will do in the future.

The crisis in both Afghanistan and Pakistan remain uppermost in the minds of the presidential candidates contesting the next US election, but it seems that the Bush administration still lacks a clear strategy as to what to do about Pakistan's reluctance to fight the extremists.


Here are some of your comments in relation to Ahmed Rashid's article.

Mr Rashid, thanks for highlighting what is a very dangerous situation for Pakistan, Afghanistan and rest of the world. The so-called Taleban are in fact little more than ruthless terrorists and extremists. The more political instability there is in Pakistan, the harder it will become for Pakistan to control them. I think Pakistan should realise that it's better to cut the head off snake before it grows and reproduces. Mohsin Khan, Pakistan

No army is bred to rule a country. They are there to obey the orders of the people. They are there to defend our borders. But the Pakistani army has got into a habit of jumping into politics as and when it pleases and that is at the root of most of our troubles. Tehsin Ullah Jan, Pakistan

It is completely wrong to claim that 80% of the $10bn aid the US gives Pakistan is going to the military. Firstly, because it is a gross exaggeration of the percentage. Secondly, because over $6bn of the "aid" is actually repayment for supplies that the Pakistan Army provides to the the US army. Pakistan has officially lost over 2,000 soldiers (unofficially 7,000) in the border area with Afghanistan. The terrorists attacks are more frequent and in residential areas of the major cities of Pakistan. American frustration is of no consequence to those Pakistanis who cannot leave their homes to go buy groceries. Shaharyar Nashat, UK

I think there has been a deliberate attempt from President Karzai and Nato commanders in Afghanistan to shift the burden in relation to the fight against militancy onto Pakistan because it's very clear from the situation on the ground in Afghanistan that both he and Nato have miserably failed. On the other hand, Pakistan's new strategy of making deals with the local Taleban is well thought out, since the military operation had produced limited results and there has been a growing number of suicide attacks in major Pakistani cities. I personally think installing fences, completely sealing the Pakistan-Afghan Border and repatriating over 3-4 million Afghan refuges back to Afghanistan might solve a lot of issues for Pakistan and Pakistanis.
Barrister Ali K Chishti , Karachi, Pakistan

The Pakistani government and intelligence agencies still has to convince Europe and America that they are doing more against terrorists, especially on the border with Afghanistan. The government is in a dangerous position because it cannot keep the US and Europe happy on the one hand while negotiating peace deals with the Taleban on the other. Murghani, Kandahar, Afghanistan

This is purely an opinion one individual who has made a name in maligning Pakistan and the Pakistan army. If Pakistan signs peace deals which save the lives of Pakistani soldiers, then it should most definitely be done. We were are fighting a war that is not our to fight, that was not started by us and will in all probability not be ended by us. More an more people are joining the Taleban because their country is being occupied. This does not make them terrorists - this makes them resistance fighters. Saad Kidwai, USA

How can Pakistan do more for other countries when they are not able to stop attacks in their own home? America is just a big bully which doesn't recognise people unless they are on their side. They used and abused Musaraff and now when everyone is against him they drop him like a bad apple. I think Pakistan should not help America - its their war let them handle it... if they can. Kashif, UK

While things are far from stable in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the influx of militants is only one of many problems. Ahmed Rashid conveniently forgets to mention that the operations in Waziristan are deeply unpopular among the public of Pakistan. After all, over 1000 soldiers and many thousands of civilians are dead and nothing has been achieved. It will of course, take many years for things to calm down but a long-term approach has to be adopted. NK, UK

I think that the Pakistani army has always been reluctant to fight this war against religious extremists, firstly because Pakistani intelligence itself had links with the extremists and secondly because some soldiers are not convinced that this is a war that is actually worth fighting. They actively sympathise with the extremists and the last thing the officer class wants is low morale because the army is becoming targeted by the extremists. I guess that the army's plan for now is step back and put all the blame of fighting this war on Musharraf. Arooge, Australia


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