Rabbani’s killing brings new friction to Pak-US ties

The brittle nature of relations between Pakistan and the United States is now exposed at every twist and turn. The latest spat had resulted from Taleban’s daring attack on Kabul in most guarded area where US and Nato headquarters are located.

The assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani has added new dimension to the complex situation in the region bringing Pak-US ties to fresh friction. It dealt a severe blow to the fragile peace process initiated by President Hamid Karzai with US blessing. The Taleban have sent mixed signals at his murder with one section accepting the responsibility and another still undecided how to respond. Since the Taleban had not accepted Rabbani’s mediation, they are most likely to be blamed for his elimination.

Rabbani belonged to the Northern Alliance which is regarded a hostile entity by Pakistan though the latter did not oppose the peace initiative nor showed unusual interest. He was Tajik with tribal rivalry against Pashtuns who are considered friendly by Pakistan. The US has still not determined who killed Rabbani but is currently engaged in denouncing the Haqqani Network (HN), one of the most feared Taleban groups in Afghanistan, for most of attacks in Kabul and elsewhere. Civil and military leadership in US are bitterly accusing Pakistan of supporting the network and using the Taleban resistance inside Afghanistan as an asset fighting a proxy war for it to advance its strategic interests in that country. Of late Washington has been exerting tremendous pressure on Pakistan to launch military operation against HN in their alleged sanctuarie.

The bilateral relations have rapidly soured during the last few months. Earlier this year the Raymond Davis affair had revealed that the CIA had been operating an independent network of its own purportedly to locate Al Qaeda leaders. On its heels came the May 2 unilateral operation in Abbotabad that killed Osama bin Laden. Without showing any remorse over violating Pakistan’s sovereignty, the episode instead led to spate of US allegations of complicity or at least incompetence on part of Pakistan’s security.

The relations got so soured that Pakistan ordered expulsion of CIA operatives and military trainers while the US halted all military and economic aid to the country. After weeks of efforts at damage control, things had begun looking better to pave the way for normalisation of relations when the Kabul attack took place.

The Haqqani network is blamed for the deadly assault that exposed the vulnerability of US and Nato defences and showed the fault lines in US strategy to hand over domestic security to Afghan forces. President Obama’s plans to demonstrate military successes before his elections next year have suffered a grievous blow. The US civil and military officials have thus reacted very harshly against Pakistan as well for non-cooperation in crushing the Haqqani Network. The HN is held responsible for using sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal belt to attack US and NATO troops.

Pakistan army has so far refused to open a new front against it in North Waziristan in view of its long-term national interests. The US ambassador Cameron Munter, who has usually been very soft on Pakistan, has made direct accusation that not only the HN is freely operating from hideouts in Pakistan but that the Pakistani officials are still maintaining direct links with it. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warned Pakistan the United States would “do everything we can” to defend US forces from Pakistan-based militants staging attacks in Afghanistan. There have been consistently broad hints that an Abbotabad-like operation may well be in the offing. In a meeting with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, US chief of staff Mike Mullen asked him to take action against the Haqqni network or brace for the possibility of US acting unilaterally.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had to cancel his planned trip to UN on learning that he would not be able to meet President Barack Obama or any other Western leaders. Instead foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar represented Pakistan in the UN General Assembly session where she had an unusually long session of 3 1⁄2 hours with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that focused mainly on Haqqanis. Outgoing chairman Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen accused ISI of directly supporting Taleban operations inside Afghanistan. A US congressional panel on Wednesday adopted a legislation prohibiting even economic assistance to Pakistan unless Pakistan cooperates in eliminating Haqqani group threat to US troops.

Rabbani’s murder deals a serious blow to even feeble peace efforts which Pakistan had welcomed in the hope that it will ultimately bring an end to the Afghan conflict. President Karzai has lost his third closest friend within a short span after the assassination of his brother and a senior Afghan governor. It reflects the increased violence now being witnessed in Afghanistan that also has serious impact on Pakistan.


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