Afghanistan, Pakistan: Islamabad Diversifies its Influence in Kabul

4 MINS READJul 1, 2010 | 17:32 GMT
Afghan military officers are heading to Pakistan for training, and a top Afghan Taliban figure in Pakistani custody is set to be handed over to Kabul. Both are simply the latest in a string of indications that Islamabad is diversifying its influence in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan at the Crossroads: Insights on the Conflict Afghan President Hamid Karzai will dispatch a contingent of Afghan military officers to Pakistan for training under the Pakistani military. Meanwhile, Islamabad is preparing to extradite Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to Afghanistan. While perhaps seemingly unrelated, these events represent Kabul's acceptance of a greater Pakistani role in Afghanistan. STRATFOR has chronicled how Kabul, long dominated by elements skeptical of — if not downright hostile to — Pakistani intentions in Afghanistan, has begun to shift its longtime position. Kabul's changing stances have resulted from the growing realization of the Taliban's increasing strength. Even those who always have opposed political accommodation have begun to recognize that no solution is possible in Afghanistan without it, as the National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration orchestrated by Karzai and held in Kabul on June 2-4 found. Karzai already has signaled major shifts through the forced resignations of Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar (a former Marxist and spy during the Soviet days) and National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh (a Tajik and former commander in the Northern Alliance), two of the most powerful opponents of closer relations with Islamabad and of negotiations with the Taliban. Some 300 Afghan officers are already reportedly being trained abroad, not only in the United States but also in places like Turkey and India. Until now, however, Kabul has opposed training for its officers in Pakistan. It is no coincidence that this change of heart followed the removal of Atmar and Saleh. Pakistan's greatest source of leverage in Afghanistan is the Taliban. Unlike in the late 1990s, however, an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban is no longer realistic or desirable for Islamabad. Pakistan now has its own Islamist Taliban insurgency raging on its own soil, meaning it has little interest in having the Taliban rule Afghanistan unchecked. But the Taliban are not interested in a political settlement at present. They perceive themselves as winning the war and are quite aware of the eroding American and allied commitment to sustaining it, as well as of deadlines for Western withdrawal. So even though it is Pakistan's single most important lever in Afghanistan, the Taliban are quite a ways from being integrated into Afghanistan's government and security forces, giving Islamabad an incentive to find other means of influence in Kabul. This is not merely a short-term attempt to bridge the gap, either. Pakistan is seeking to ensure that its influence in Afghanistan is as broad and diversified as possible not only in order to consolidate its own position, but to counter its archrival, India. Pakistan also wants to ensure that it is at the center of any negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban in Afghanistan to maximize its political value to Washington and to guarantee Pakistani interests in any final settlement. The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a top aide to Mullah Mohammad Omar, in Pakistan at the beginning of the year represented a deliberate maneuver to disrupt direct Kabul and Taliban negotiations, talks which Baradar appears to have been facilitating. The arrest served its purpose, obstructing Karzai's efforts to deal directly with the Taliban and reminding Baradar that he is beholden to Islamabad. By granting U.S. interrogators limited access to him, the Pakistanis also helped sate U.S. demands for further intelligence cooperation. Islamabad's willingness to put Baradar back into the picture by extraditing him indicates Pakistan has reached an understanding with him. Exactly what that understanding might be is less important than that Baradar is now being reinserted into the process, something Pakistan would only do if it served to further solidify its foothold in Afghanistan. By returning Baradar and training Afghan officers, Islamabad is doing more than just regaining lost ground; it is working to diversify its sources of influence in Afghanistan in order to ensure in the long run that its leverage there is never again so heavily reliant on one entity as it was in the late 1990s.

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