Fresh off his visit to India, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Kabul on Thursday, where he lambasted the Pakistani government for refusing to go after the insurgents operating from the country’s tribal areas. The secretary’s comments come on top of the failure to agree on a deal to re-open transit routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as America’s refusal to halt its drone program within Pakistan’s borders.Reuters has quotes from Panetta’s address:
‘It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan.’. . .‘It is very important for Pakistan to take steps. It is an increasing concern, the issue of safe haven, and we are reaching the limits of our patience.’ . . .‘It is an increasing concern that safe havens exist and those like the Haqqanis make use of that to attack our forces.’ . . .‘We are reaching the limits of our patience for that reason. It is extremely important for Pakistan to take action to prevent (giving) the Haqqanis safe havens, and for terrorists to use their country as a safety net to conduct attacks on our forces.’
As relations between the nominal allies continue to sour, it appears from Panetta’s remarks that the United States is edging closer to a decisive change in its partnership with Pakistan. Like his predecessor, Barack Obama has failed to get the real cooperation from Pakistan necessary to wind down the Afghanistan war, and the administration has begun looking elsewhere (including to Pakistan’s arch enemy, India) for assistance.Unfortunately for the US, Pakistani intransigence makes sense from Islamabad’s point of view: Taliban elements and the Haqqani networks are the best means available to extend Pakistani influence in Afghanistan once the Americans depart. And the more it looks like we’re leaving, the more sense it makes to Pakistan to make plans to control the country as we leave.This is the difference at the heart of US-Pakistani quarrels: Pakistan’s core concept for the future of Afghanistan is exactly the thing the US is fighting to prevent. Pakistan wants post-American Afghanistan to be run by radical forces more or less under its thumb; these are the radicals killing Americans now and in league with the jihadi terrorists like Al-Qaeda who got us into the war in the first place.It’s not clear to Via Meadia and may not be clear to the White House just how committed the US really is to keeping the Haqqani network and the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan as the US leaves. Is the administration looking for a Nixon-style “decent interval” between our withdrawal and a Taliban takeover, or is it resolved to prevent such a takeover come what may?The Pakistanis are clearly betting that the US administration is flapping its jaws while preparing to fold; but something else may be at work. US overtures to India about supporting a larger Indian role in Afghanistan combined with recent signs that both Russia and China are concerned about what happens to Afghanistan when NATO goes home suggest a broad international coalition exists that might oppose Pakistan’s blueprint for the future of its neighbor.As the US steps down in Afghanistan, it is certainly hoping that India will stand up. Could the US be about to invite Russia back into Afghanistan as part of the plan to keep the Taliban out? Russia, China, India and Iran all hate the thought of what Pakistan wants to do in Afghanistan. Can this bond of common interests form a coalition that with help from the United States prevent the radicals and terrorists from repeating the Taliban’s original victory in Afghanistan?