Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a stunning piece about a meeting that took place on April 16 in Kabul between Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The article asserts that Gilani sought to convince Karzai to break relations with the U.S. and instead seek an alliance with Pakistan and China, both of which are not keen on the prospect of permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. has denied the veracity of the report, and the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson went even further, calling it, “the most ridiculous report we have come across.”
It’s also possible that some Afghan leaders are exaggerating or fabricating Gilani’s statements for their own purposes, particularly to influence crucial U.S.–Afghan negotiations on a strategic partnership agreement to guide relations beyond 2014.
Whether the article quotes Gilani accurately is not the central issue. There have been enough indications over the last year that Pakistan is not on board with the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. This should be no surprise to anyone.
It is plausible that Pakistan has decided to start playing its cards with Afghan and Chinese leaders to try to achieve its own objectives in Afghanistan.
The Pakistanis have never shied away from hardball tactics to achieve their strategic goals. They are adept at mixing tough messages with diplomatic finesse. Thus we should expect more firm denials of the story from Pakistani diplomats.
The U.S. must judge Pakistani actions—rather than statements or reported statements—to determine whether the U.S.–Pakistani partnership is serving mutual goals. After providing Pakistan over $20 billion in military and economic aid over the last 10 years and exercising diplomatic patience in the face of growing reports of Pakistani duplicity in the fight against terrorism, Washington should expect to see Pakistani commitment to dealing with Taliban sanctuaries on its soil and a genuine effort to break the Taliban from al-Qaeda’s clutches.
Neither the U.S. nor Pakistan can afford to allow the partnership to rupture.
But neither can the U.S. allow Pakistan to reinstall the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan may share a border with Afghanistan, but the 9/11 attacks have dictated that the U.S. will remain engaged in the region—militarily and diplomatically—for a long time to come.
The Pakistani leadership would understand this more clearly—and thus be more willing to cooperate with us to uproot the terrorism that also threatens their own stability—if the Obama Administration demonstrated a firmer commitment to the Afghan mission.