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Tremors from 'AfPak' Border

Author: Deborah Jerome, Deputy Editor
July 5, 2011

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Pakistani troops backed by gunship helicopters launched an offensive against Taliban fighters (Nation) in the Kurram tribal agency bordering Afghanistan, a staging area for militant attacks against U.S. forces as well as Pakistan's army. And in the latest of a series of alleged cross-border attacks (VOA), Pakistan says Afghan Taliban militants attacked a checkpoint, while Afghan government officials report an increase in shelling of their villages from the Pakistani military. These new tensions in the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, along with growing internal Pakistan divisions over confronting militants, are adding to unease among U.S. policymakers and experts about the possible regional fallout of the upcoming phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The latest developments highlight the complexity of the conflict in Pakistan's border region, which has direct impact on security in neighboring Afghanistan. The Kurram operation follows reports that the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network had reached a truce with local militants to use the area as a transit point to launch attacks against NATO forces (AP) across the border. But some analysts believe the offensive is directed at Pakistani Taliban fighters, who have targeted Pakistan's security forces. Despite pressure from the United States, Pakistan is hesitant to target the Haqqanis because of historical ties to the group. The Pakistani military nurtures a range of militant groups (NYT) as part of a strategy of using proxies against its neighbors and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, although that approach is being question by some of the fighters it trained, reports the New York Times.

Three prominent U.S. officials in Afghanistan--U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General David M. Rodriquez--are all leaving or due to leave shortly. Each has raised questions (NYT) about whether Afghan security forces will be able to protect the country and about Pakistan's intentions. CFR's Stephen Biddle is concerned by "hedging behaviors by Afghans and Pakistanis that make governance reform in Afghanistan very hard and that make progress against Taliban base camps in Pakistan very hard."

Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) have expressed concern that the withdrawal will mean a loss of momentum (WSJ) in Afghanistan. Afghans themselves are worried about a resurgence of the Taliban and that the country could collapse into civil war, writes Fotini Christia on ForeignAffairs.com.

Some experts, such as the Carnegie Endowment's Ashley J. Tellis, argue that the U.S. special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May "exploded the idea of a 'strategic partnership'" necessary for the fight against Islamist extremist groups and also weakened the internal credibility of Pakistan's army. But CFR's Daniel Markey notes an opportunity in the current crisis to improve U.S.-Pakistan relations. A chief element should be a purging of Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) officers suspected of providing support or safe haven to extremists, Markey says. U.S. concerns about the ISI are highlighted by reports that the Obama administration suspects the agency's involvement in the killing of a Pakistani journalist (NYT) who had reported on the infiltration of militants into the military.

Others argue, however, that it's unlikely the United States will ever be able to build a secure Afghanistan. The honest way to leave the country, argues commentator Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast "is to acknowledge that the Afghanistan we leave behind will be a chaotic, ugly place where the Taliban rules large swaths of the country, and much of what we have built may be washed away."

Selected Analysis

This CFR Crisis Guide on Pakistan looks at the roots of the country's challenges, what it means for the region and the world, and explores plausible futures.

This CFR Backgrounder explores the terrorist groups that have both emerged and taken sanctuary in Pakistan.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States have diverging views about counterinsurgency operations and Taliban reconciliation. The three countries are likely to pursue different agendas (Diplomat) as the U.S. troop drawdown starts.

Did Obama's troop drawdown plan for Afghanistan undercut the campaign against the Taliban or was it too limited to meet U.S. goals? CFR President Richard N. Haass and Senior Fellow Max Boot offer differing takes.

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