Specialists on U.S.-Pakistani relations gathered at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on November 28 to examine Pakistan’s posture on the 2014 transition in Afghanistan and how strained U.S.-Pakistani ties are likely to play a role in it.

Panel at Peace Institute Assesses U.S.-Pakistan Relations

Regional specialists and senior staff from Capitol Hill who gathered at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on November 28 suggested that U.S.-Pakistani relations, following a period of significant deterioration, have improved and in the future are likely to focus more narrowly on such policy priorities as counterterrorism and nonproliferation.

The relationship, said Moeed Yusuf, USIP’s South Asia adviser, is now in “a better position than we had six months ago.” The Institute is engaged in a variety of collaborative efforts involving Pakistan: research and analytical work; consultations with policy figures in both Pakistan and the United States; the training of conflict-management facilitators within communities and among religious leaders; peace education through textbooks and teacher training; and small grants to build the capacity of youth groups and the media to counter violent extremism, among others.

The broader U.S.-Pakistani relationship is improving after tensions deepened last year. Pakistani anger arose over the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in a NATO airstrike, a shooting by a U.S. contractor, and continued U.S. drone attacks on suspected militants. Meanwhile, U.S. frustrations with Pakistan grew over safe havens on its soil being used by Afghan militants, as well as perceived Pakistani reluctance to allow Taliban leaders to participate in direct Afghan reconciliation talks. Pakistan, for several months, shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and took other measures to show its displeasure on the NATO airstrike that killed Pakistani soldiers in November of last year. But this week Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Reuters in an interview that the two countries have restored full military and intelligence ties, and he indicated that Islamabad will support an Afghan peace process.

U.S.-Pakistani tensions have inhibited the cooperation between the two countries that is needed to foster a more durable “end game” in Afghanistan as U.S. and allied forces prepare to end their combat role by the end of 2014, according to Yusuf.

Three other specialists spoke at the November 28 USIP forum, including two congressional staff members whose comments were made as individuals rather than on behalf of their committees.

Sajit Gandhi, a Democratic professional staff member on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, noted that in comparison to early in the Obama administration there is little talk of creating a “long-term strategic partnership.” He predicted that the focus of the relationship will center on “more limited goals,” namely counterterrorism and nonproliferation. It remains critical to continue a U.S. civilian assistance program, he added. On Afghanistan, Gandhi said, “Pakistan lost the opportunity to be the point guard and help us out in the transition.” He said that Pakistan was not acting as a spoiler with respect to a successful transition in Afghanistan but was also not playing “an active role” to make it work. Gandhi said that American policymakers need to ask themselves, “How do we help Pakistan address its national security interests?”

Simbal Khan, a Pakistan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and director for Afghanistan and Central Asia at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, listed three core bilateral issues: the transition in Afghanistan, counterterrorism, and U.S. security and economic assistance to Pakistan. She described the “inherent fragility of Pakistan-U.S. relations,” in part because of the unpredictability of non-state actors like militant groups. U.S. policy toward the region continues to be “Afghan-centric,” she said, and the continuing drawdown of U.S. forces there will drive Washington’s Pakistan policy more strongly in the coming period. As political processes in Afghanistan take center stage and U.S. military operations there decline, there will be “greater space for cooperation with Pakistan,” Khan said, with some higher-level diplomatic engagement between Islamabad and Kabul already happening. A lighter U.S. military footprint in the region, including fewer drone strikes, could encourage improved security cooperation with Pakistan on counterterrorism and otherwise—what Khan termed a “narrow window of opportunity.”

Michael Phelan, a Republican professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said that a “much more sober reflection on this relationship” has taken place over the past two years. Relations in the coming years “will shift, and it’s about time,” he said. “I think we’ve lowered our expectations a bit so it will be easier to meet those expectations.” He described himself as encouraged that future ties will be more mature and built on a clearer assessment of both countries’ intentions and capabilities. Phelan called for “a true and effective partnership” in national security and economic development.

Related Publications

Coronavirus Poses Yet Another Challenge to the Afghan Peace Process

Coronavirus Poses Yet Another Challenge to the Afghan Peace Process

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

By: Scott Smith

The Afghan peace process has been at a stalemate for weeks, as President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban remain far apart on the logistics of prisoner releases. Intra-Afghan talks that were tentatively scheduled for March 10 have not got off the ground. Meanwhile, the disputed presidential election has led to two rival camps claiming the legitimacy to govern. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s effort this week to bring the parties together failed and led the U.S. to reduce aid to Afghanistan. Amid all this uncertainty, Afghanistan is beginning to see the signs of a coronavirus outbreak, which could devastate the country given its poor health infrastructure and pollution problems. USIP’s Scott Smith explains how the coronavirus could further exacerbates an already complex situation.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Taliban Fragmentation: Fact, Fiction, and Future

Taliban Fragmentation: Fact, Fiction, and Future

Monday, March 23, 2020

By: Andrew Watkins

For years, the U.S. military pursued a "divide and defeat" strategy against the Afghan Taliban, attempting to exploit the supposedly fragmented nature of the group. Drawing on the academic literature on insurgency, civil war, and negotiated peace, this report finds that the Taliban is a far more cohesive organization than a fragmented one. Moreover, Taliban cohesion may bode well for enforcing the terms of its February 29 agreement with the United States, and any eventual settlement arising from intra-Afghan negotiations.

Type: Peaceworks

Peace Processes

Afghanistan: Can This Be a Real Peace Process?

Afghanistan: Can This Be a Real Peace Process?

Monday, March 23, 2020

By: Sharif Shah Safi

Like every Afghan, I’m watching with fear and hope to see what will emerge from last month’s agreement between the United States and the Taliban. My hope is that it can help end more than 40 years of war. My fear is that the current process may not result in a just and dignified peace where all Afghans are considered equal citizens, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. I fear that the Taliban’s rigid interpretations of Islamic laws will undermine our country’s gains of the past 18 years: an open media, women’s presence in public spheres, and more.

Type: Blog

Gender; Peace Processes; Youth

Another Afghan Election Crisis and the Challenge of Power-Sharing

Another Afghan Election Crisis and the Challenge of Power-Sharing

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

By: Colin Cookman

Approximately five and a half months after Afghanistan held nationwide presidential elections in September 2019, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and runner-up Abdullah Abdullah have held parallel inauguration ceremonies this week, with each side claiming the authority to form the next government. The current political crisis complicates efforts to open up broader power-sharing talks with the Taliban called for under an agreement signed in Doha at the end of February, as President Ghani seeks to consolidate his authority, and Abdullah and his supporters seek to claim a seat at the negotiating table.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Peace Processes

View All Publications