In a blockbuster deal announced just under the trade deadline, America will deal its war in Afghanistan for a war in Pakistan. The deal was announced in a series of maneuvers today. first:
The administration has accelerated direct talks with the Taliban, initiated several months ago, that U.S. officials say they hope will enable President Obama to report progress toward a settlement of the Afghanistan war when he announces troop withdrawals in July.
A senior Afghan official said a U.S. representative attended at least three meetings in Qatar and Germany, one as recently as “eight or nine days ago,” with a Taliban official considered close to Mohammad Omar, the group’s leader.
State Department spokesman Michael A. Hammer on Monday declined to comment on the Afghan official’s assertion, saying the United States had a “broad range of contacts across Afghanistan and the region, at many levels. . . . We’re not going to get into the details of those contacts.”
Now, the last time we heard about direct talks with the Taliban, their lead negotiator turned out to be a guy who pretended he was with the Taliban. So it’s hard to know if this is legitimate without being in the room, and even then there’s room for doubt. But this describes multi-level talks with both Arab and European interlocutors, and even has the insurgents forming a political office. So while things are moving slowly and deliberately, they do appear to be moving toward a formal reconciliation. And this is a tell:
“The Afghans have been fully briefed” on U.S.-Taliban contacts, an American official said, and “the Pakistanis only partially so.”
While I still think much of the vaunted belligerence between the US and Pakistan is so much political theater, some of it is real, and at some level I do think Pakistan is angered by breaches of their national sovereignty. Especially because they keep happening:
NATO helicopters from Afghanistan intruded into northwest Pakistan Tuesday, wounding two soldiers, officials said, prompting a protest from the military already seething over the secret U.S. operation to kill Osama bin Laden.
The Pakistani Army said it had lodged a “strong protest” and sought a flag meeting with NATO commanders over the incursion in Pakistan’s North Waziristan near the Afghan border which has been repeatedly targeted by U.S. drone aircraft as a hub of al Qaeda linked militants.
A Western military official in Kabul, however, said two NATO helicopters supporting a base in eastern Afghanistan had returned fire after being attacked from Pakistan, but declined to say whether they had crossed into Pakistani airspace.
A senior Pakistani security official said NATO has lodged its own complaint with Pakistan, accusing its forces of “unprovoked firing.” Western military officials in Kabul had no immediate comment about the possible complaint.
These incursions, and the drone attacks in the FATA region, matter much more to the Pakistanis than the bin Laden raid, in my estimation. They are much more likely to inspire revolt and unrest among the more restive forces in Pakistan. It’s no accident that, in a speech today, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani described China as his country’s best friend. That was a signal.
I don’t see a real rather than rhetorical distancing between the US and Pakistan as of yet. But if the undeclared war keeps cropping up, we could see a lot less cooperation.