Last week, when we noted that the new head of Pakistan’s ISI had come to Washington for negotiations, we suggested that for all sorts of reasons, Pakistan needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Pakistan. And while nothing in this relationship is ever settled for good, some dare to hope that U.S. pressure on Pakistan is bearing some fruit:
U.S. and Pakistani officials are considering joint counterterrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, say officials familiar with the proposals, in what would mark an upturn in cooperation after more than a year of rancorous relations.The proposed campaigns would target the Haqqani militant group, which has mounted several attacks on U.S. soldiers, as well as Taliban fighters who have launched attacks on Pakistan, the officials said.
Pakistan has its own reasons to worry about terror on the frontier. The gap left by the departing Americans is being filled by Pakistani Taliban, who are establishing their own safe-havens on the Afghan side of the border, just like the Afghan Taliban have been doing for years on the Pakistani side. According to the Pakistani Federal Minister for the Interior, the Pakistani Taliban are now actively seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government. While the minister provided no evidence for this claim, it is perhaps a sign of increasing unease on the part of Islamabad over the fever swamp it has allowed to grow up on and near the Afghan border. Pakistani officials have asked the U.S. to target about a half-dozen Pakistani Taliban operatives, based in the Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan, who Pakistan says have carried out dozens of attacks across the border, killing Pakistani soldiers.It remains to be seen whether the Pakistanis will actually mount a successful offensive against the Haqqani network as they seem to have promised in return. The Haqqani network is not at war with Pakistan, and there is plenty of evidence that some of the Pakistani authorities work closely with it. West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center notes that the ISI might have actually used the pretext of a previous “offensive” against the Haqqanis in 2011 to help facilitate cross-border attacks by the Haqqanis into Afghanistan, and allowed Taliban leaders to shelter from drone strikes in newly-established refugee camps resulting from the offensive.So are these hints of cooperation a sign of a turn for the better, or is Lucy just setting up the football for Charlie Brown one more time? At Via Meadia, we’re agnostic, but like a lot of people in Washington we’ll be watching closely to see if Pakistan has decided to change its ways. Hope springs eternal, but even Charlie Brown can turn cynical after a while.