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U.S.-Pakistan: Aligning Military Interests

Interviewee: Hassan Abbas, Bernard Schwartz Fellow, Asia Society
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org
February 16, 2010

Three U.S. soldiers were killed February 3 in a suicide attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban in northwest Pakistan's Lower Dir district. The soldiers were among the U.S. Special Operations Forces involved in the counterinsurgency training of Pakistan's paramilitary force, the Frontier Corps, over the last eighteen months. U.S. soldiers have also been engaged in development assistance in this part of Pakistan, which is struggling to rebuild after heavy fighting between the Pakistani military and militants last year. Hassan Abbas, a fellow at Asia Society and an analyst on security issues, says this kind of U.S. military involvement inside Pakistan is a new and welcome development. However, he adds, it is kept quiet inside Pakistan, given the sensitivities regarding the presence of U.S. troops on the ground and anti-Americanism inside Pakistan.

As this Backgrounder points out, the United States and Pakistan have had an extensive military relationship for several decades, which has grown since 2001. However, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged during his Pakistan trip last month, there remains a "trust deficit" between the two countries. Abbas, who served in the police force in Pakistan's tribal areas, says this is a product of a turbulent history as well as Pakistanis' negative perception of U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, he argues, "when it comes to the political elite and political leadership and military leadership, the level of distrust is not as severe as it seems to be."

Washington sees Pakistan's support in the fight against terrorism as key to a stable Afghanistan. But Abbas notes U.S. and Pakistan's interests regarding Afghanistan are not fully aligned. While both countries seek a stable Afghanistan, Pakistan wants a government in Kabul that is friendly to Pakistan and considers Islamabad its primary partner, Abbas says. Washington is also concerned about the Pakistani army's unwillingness to go after groups like the Afghan Taliban, with which historically it has had ties. For instance, last month, the Pakistani army said it won't be able to expand its offensive to any new areas for at least six months to a year due to lack of capacity. Even as Abbas acknowledges the Pakistani army's constraints, he says it is in the interest of the Pakistani security forces to target all militant groups.


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