WASHINGTON — The proposed bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan will determine the scope and size of the U.S. military presence there after 2014. It's a significant issue between Washington and Kabul, but also is important for regional security. The U.S. troop presence, or lack of it, would have significant ramifications for the region, especially for neighboring Pakistan.
Thousands have died in violence that has gripped Pakistan since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a response to the September 11 attacks.
Pakistan has been a frontline ally, although a sometimes difficult one, in the war on terror.
The country's Islamist parties say the violence in Pakistan is the direct outcome of the country's cooperation with a government whose troops are in an Islamic neighbor. They say no U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan after 2014.
Scott Smith of the U.S. Institute of Peace says that would not be in Pakistan's interest. "The purpose of the bilateral security agreement is basically to train the Afghan forces so that they can help maintain a stable Afghanistan. So, if that goes according to plan, and if their presence allows for the financing of the Afghan army, which right now the Afghan state can’t pay for, then we should have a more stable Afghanistan that should be in Pakistan’s interest as well."
During a recent visit to Kabul, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to dispel the notion that Pakistan is trying to influence Afghanistan’s decisions.
But Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan will be independent of the U.S. presence there, said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Pakistan is not going to stop interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs. It has a border problem, it has an ethnic problem and it has a problem in competing with India. They see us as temporary, and probably correctly."
Pakistan's government says it does not interfere in Afghanistan's affairs.
Analysts say the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden and drone strikes targeting suspected militants elsewhere in Pakistan are the major reasons the U.S. and Pakistan are at odds.
To protest the drone strikes, an opposition party is blocking one of NATO's supply routes into Afghanistan.
Relations are improving, however, and an agreement on the supply routes is in place, said Special U.S. Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins. "We have an agreement that covers the lines of communications to Afghanistan and that agreement continues to be followed."
Experts say the uncertainty over the bilateral security agreement is detrimental not only to Afghanistan, but also for regional security.