Afghanistan Caught In U.S.-Pakistan Feud

Recent events have reduced U.S.-Pakistani relations to their lowest point in years. On a recent visit to Kabul, the Pakistani premier reportedly pushed for Afghanistan to reject a strategic partnership with Washington, which has left American officials seething and Afghans feeling caught in the crossfire. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Recent events have brought the relationship between the United States and Pakistan to its lowest point in years. American officials have publicly accused Pakistan's spy agency of maintaining links to Afghan insurgents; officials in Pakistan have lashed out at the U.S. over continuing drone attacks on insurgent strongholds in Pakistani territory.

All of this has had an effect on the U.S. operation in Afghanistan. On a recent visit to Kabul, Pakistan's premier reportedly pushed for Afghanistan to reject a strategic partnership with Washington. That leaves American officials seething, and Afghans feeling caught in a crossfire. NPR's Quil Lawrence has more from Kabul.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Afghanistan and the U.S. each have their own, complicated relationship with Pakistan, which they call an indispensable ally despite nearly constant accusations that high-ranking Pakistani officials protect and even command elements of the Taliban insurgency, which kills Afghans and Americans every day. For its part, Pakistan doubts America's intentions in central Asia, and especially fears that Afghanistan could fall under the influence of its arch-rival, India.

Not all the news is bad, however. According to General John Campbell, who commands NATO forces across eastern Afghanistan, including hundreds of miles of the Pakistani border, relations between ground commanders have improved.

Major General JOHN CAMPBELL (Commander, U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division; Commander, NATO Forces, Eastern Afghanistan): If we can get a meeting at the tactical level, you know, they're going to work things out, and they'll talk about it. Once the commanders get together and talk, they're going to get done what they need to get done. They're going to pass information back and forth. And we're doing it a lot more.

LAWRENCE: But Campbell acknowledges problems on the political level do filter down. Some Afghans even assert that assassinations and suicide bomb attacks on Afghan civilians have been prompted by dips in relations between the U.S. and Islamabad.

There are even more suspicions about a recent Pakistani state visit to Kabul. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani came to the Afghan capital not with his foreign minister, but with the head of the ISI, Pakistan's spy service, which has historic connections with the Taliban.

Mr. HASEEB HUMAYOON (Political Analyst): There's unease. There's unease. Doesn't have to be any specific institution's involvement, but you know that there are questions about particular Pakistani military institutions and their role in Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: Haseeb Humayoon is an Afghan political analyst. He says Afghan media are reporting that the Pakistani prime minister suggested outright to President Hamid Karzai that Afghanistan start cutting ties with the U.S. in favor of regional powers Pakistan and China. The Pakistani government has denied the story, which was first reported internationally by the Wall Street Journal.

Still, this comes just as Kabul and Washington are beginning to negotiate a strategic partnership agreement that could involve a longer term U.S. military presence. Humayoon says it's unclear whether President Karzai would take such a suggestion seriously.

Mr. HUMAYOON: You have to be very limited in your thinking if you think you could take this country anywhere by allying yourself with a country as - say, Pakistan or any other neighbor, and then disconnecting yourself from the world.

LAWRENCE: Still, the reports worry American officials, who see that President Karzai has recently made conciliatory moves toward Islamabad with the goal of Pakistani assistance in opening peace negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistan may have just signaled that its assistance, and a long-term American presence, are not compatible.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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