Pakistan and the United States are working to get their relations back on solid footing as Washington prepares for a military drawdown in neighboring Afghanistan. But some experts believe the more critical factor for peace in the region lies in ties between Pakistan and India.
Analysts in Washington say the relationship between Pakistan and India may turn out to be the most important factor in Afghanistan's future, and that Washington could play a greater role in encouraging the two nuclear-armed rivals to cooperate.
Hassan Abass is a professor of International Security at Washington's National Defense University. Abass said he thinks the area will be in for a difficult time if the United States pulls its military forces out of a politically and economically weak Afghanistan in 2014 without any strong regional consensus. "Leaving Afghanistan in this situation, without a regional or international understanding, means more war, more violence, at least it means continued instability," he said.
The key, Abass says, is collaboration between India and Pakistan. But Abass says despite recent improved ties, the two sides continue to try to influence the outcome in Afghanistan through different proxies.
Islamabad accuses New Delhi of conducting intelligence operations in the region, and India accuses Pakistan of turning a blind eye to armed militants operating out of its territory.
Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, says there is no simple solution. He says that while it makes sense for Pakistan to change its laws so that it can move against these groups inside Pakistan, politically it is a very difficult task for Islamabad. "Until now, they have had an extremely weak legal system and even weaker resolve to move against these groups for various political reasons," he said.
But the recent spillover of various insurgencies and militants' activity into Pakistan, Nawaz says, could force Pakistan's government to focus inward. "The realization, I hope, will grow not just within the government and the military establishment, but also in Pakistan society as a whole that this is a much more serious and immediate threat to Pakistan’s stability and that it does Pakistan no good to allow the export of such activities either with or without the knowledge of the government," he said.
Moeed Yusuf, of the United States Institute of Peace, says persuading India and Pakistan to play a greater cooperative role could take on more importance for Washington, as a long-term US-Pakistan partnership, beyond that of counter-terrorism, may not work out. "I don't think the strategic interests match to the point where these two sides could become principle allies in South Asia," he said.
Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been rocky for years, and anti-terrorism cooperation between the two came to a halt over a NATO cross-border strike in November that killed 24 Pakistani military personnel.
While both sides have been working to restore positive ties, the United States has reacted coolly to conditions set out by Pakistan's parliament to reset relations and reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
The conditions include a stop to drone strikes in Pakistan and that Pakistani territory not be used for the transport of arms or ammunition into Afghanistan. Washington did not say whether it would abide by those recommendations, but said it would discuss the policy points with Islamabad.
Yusuf insists that peace and stability lie in the normalization of ties between India and Pakistan. "Afghanistan is important, but Pakistan-India is the key element to this," he said.
He says the more Washington can do to bring those two sides together, the better the outcome will be in neighboring Afghanistan.