Top officials in Pakistan have sharply reacted to U.S. accusations of not doing enough to help end the war in Afghanistan. They allege the blame stems from military “failures” the United States and its allies have suffered in the conflict, now in its 15th year.
Islamabad acknowledges that traditionally uneasy relations with Washington have again been “witnessing a downward slide” in recent months.
The tensions, Pakistani officials say, mainly stem from what they reject as “unsubstantiated” charges their country is supporting and harboring the Taliban and the Haqqani network of militants waging the Afghan war.
The Haqqani network issue “remains the top U.S. concern at the moment,” Pakistan’s foreign policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, recently told parliament.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently used his authority to deny the use of U.S. funds for Pakistan to buy eight F-16 fighter jets, despite Islamabad’s insistence the deal is crucial for its counterterrorism operations.
This past Wednesday, U.S. lawmakers passed a defense policy bill to increase restrictions on military aid for Pakistan. The congressional objections in both cases stemmed from Islamabad’s failure to stop harboring the Taliban and militants linked to the Haqqani network fighting the beleaguered Afghan government.
A senior Pakistani official dealing with national security matters alleges the Obama administration is trying to make Islamabad a “scapegoat to cover up its own failures” in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s national security adviser, Nasir Janjua, in an interview with VOA, said his country is making “all our endeavors” to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process under a group of four nations, including the United States.
In addressing a conference on Afghanistan this week in Islamabad, Janjua suggested Pakistan is being blamed for the Afghan conflict because “the notion of victory is not visible” for the U.S.-led military coalition.
“All those who have been operational commanders or commanders in Afghanistan, when they are held accountable and when they have not succeeded, obviously what do they come up with …And then Haqqani and Taliban and blame on Pakistan just surfaces,” Janjua said.
The former military general said the United States has been relying on its military power to even bring about political reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban.
“There were strategies being formulated of surge and reconcile. You slap a man and then you want him to sit down with you and reconcile,” Janjua noted.
He was referring to President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision when more American troops were deployed in a bid to weaken the Taliban and push the group to the negotiating table.
The Haqqani network, according to Afghan and U.S. military commanders, maintains ties to the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment and operates out of tribal areas of the neighboring country. According to U.S. assessments, the network is the region's most dangerous group and has been behind major attacks against local and foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Janjua says Pakistan has deployed more than 200,000 troops to clear areas near the Afghan border of all insurgents and established government control over most of the treacherous terrain. He says the counterterrorism campaign has cost Pakistan tens of thousands of lives with economic losses estimated at $107 billion.
Pakistan has long said that while it has established hundreds of border outposts in recent years, Afghan and coalition forces have not matched the action.
Afghanistan opposes strengthening border controls because it disputes the more than 2,500-kilometer-long porous frontier with Pakistan and maintains such an attempt would add problems to the divided families and tribes in both countries.
Pakistani officials say more than 50,000 Afghans cross the border and go back every day, including divided families carrying special passes called easement rights and Afghan refugees living in Pakistan for more than three decades.
This massive movement of people, Islamabad says, makes it extremely difficult to discourage militants from crossing the border.
Janjua, however, cited several reasons for the Taliban’s reluctance to join the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.
He said they include prevailing “misperceptions or perceptions” in Afghanistan about whether President Asharf Ghani’s government will survive after completing two years in September, lack of coordination among Afghan leaders on how to approach the reconciliation process, and the splintering of the Taliban after the death of its founder and first leader, Mullah Omar.
A U.S. official acknowledges challenges within the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
“It is an important, vital relationship that we strongly believe in. Is it complicated at times? Absolutely, it is. And do we see eye-to-eye on every issue with Pakistan? No, we don’t. But that’s why the relationship matters so much, because we have shared threats and shared concerns,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby last week.
Analysts like Masood Khan of Islamabad’s Institute of Strategic Studies, urge both countries to resolve differences through diplomatic engagements.
“I would say that despite current turbulence in relations, the U.S. should not disengage with Pakistan. That would not be wise. It has taken time and effort to bring relations back on track. That trend must be strengthened,” Khan said.