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Renewed cooperation?

December 21, 2012

AS the text of the latest Pentagon report on the war in Afghanistan submitted to the US Congress is parsed, more nuggets have come tumbling out that shed light on the state of Pak-US-Afghan ties. According to a report in this newspaper yesterday, “complementary raids” have been carried out along the volatile region of the Pak-Afghan border in the Afghan east and Pakistan’s Fata and tribal areas further north. This hints at renewed cooperation over the fiendishly complex problem of cross-border raids wherein Afghan Taliban with sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border penetrate eastern Afghanistan, and Pakistani Taliban escaping military operations in Fata and the Malakand region have set up shop on the Afghan side from where they harass and target Pakistani security forces. The problem of cross border raids by militants affects not only stability in eastern Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan but broader Pak-US and Pak-Afghan relations because of the recriminations and mistrust that such raids generate.

Still, it is far from clear what level of cooperation is actually taking place to try and stem at least some cross-border militant activity. The US military strategy of focusing on population centres has meant a withdrawal from posts in remote border areas, while the Afghan forces are still unable to rise to the challenge that cross-border raids present. This leads to complaints from Pakistan that the necessary hammer-and-anvil strategy cannot be implemented. It also generates suspicion that cross-border raids from the Afghan side are a tit-for-tat response to militant activity from Pakistan into Afghanistan. More worryingly, from Pakistan’s perspective, it also serves to delay the inevitable operation in North Waziristan, from where emanates the single greatest threat to stability on both sides of the border and also Pakistan proper. Perhaps none of this can edge closer to a resolution until the US strategy in Afghanistan is reevaluated and the course of action over the next couple of years made clear. Now that President Obama has been reelected, the reassessment should occur soon. But if it resembles a kind of contradictory surge-and-exit strategy, little may be clarified or resolved.