By Andrew Melton
Afghanistan’s dangerously porous border with Pakistan continues to strain the relationship between Washington and Islamabad. The United States believes the majority of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan operate out of Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the Northwest of the country. In addition, the United States has accused the Pakistani military and intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of not pursuing the Pakistani Taliban diligently enough and sometimes even aiding them. The most recent example of this came on September 13th in Kabul, Afghanistan. Fighters from the Haqqani network, a branch of the Pakistani Taliban, launched an attack on the US embassy in Kabul resulting in dozens of casualties, including multiple fatalities. Days later, Admiral Mike Mullen publicly accused Pakistan’s ISI of supporting the Haqqani network and the attack. The Pakistani government vehemently denied the accusation, and the relationship between the two nations remains tense.
Both actors, the United States and Pakistan, have much at stake going forward. Pakistan receives billions of dollars in aid for defense from the United States. The United States depends on Pakistan to help pursue the Taliban and pacify Afghanistan. The United States’ primary goal is for the ISI to cut all ties to the Pakistani Taliban and intensify their pursuit of these militant groups. Pakistan’s primary goal is to maintain the status quo of pursuing the Pakistani Taliban enough as to insure the continual flow of aid from the United States while preserving acceptable relations with the same militant groups. The status quo, however, is unsustainable.
The United States’ policy on this issue going forward began with an ultimatum for Pakistan: cease all support for the Pakistani Taliban, or the United States will take unilateral action in pursuing militants into the FATA. Pakistan has very little wiggle room. On one hand the government feels they must maintain connections with the Pakistani Taliban in order to include them in Pakistani society after the United States leaves Afghanistan. On the other hand, a lack of compliance could jeopardize the billions of dollars in defense aid Pakistan receives from the United States. The United States already withheld aid once early this year. Furthermore, as was the case with the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, unilateral intrusions by the United States are deeply unpopular amongst the Pakistani population. The civilian population sees it as a blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The government can ill afford more civilian dissent.
The United States is most likely to follow through with its ultimatum, as it was announced publicly and not through private channels. There are tradeoffs associated with both of Pakistan’s possible choices, some more severe than others. Recognizing the amount Pakistan relies on the United States’ aid and how little it can afford unilateral action by the United States, Pakistan has little choice. The government and ISI must begin cutting ties with the Pakistani Taliban in the FATA and increase military action against these militant groups. The benefits of maintaining a relationship no longer outweigh the costs.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.