The USA and Pakistan face each other again over Afghanistan threats

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul has increased mutual distrust between the US and Pakistan, two alleged allies embroiled in Afghanistan. But both sides still need each other.

As the Biden administration seeks new ways to stop terrorist threats in Afghanistan, it is likely to turn to Pakistan again because of its proximity to Afghanistan and its ties to the now-responsible Taliban leaders for US intelligence and national services Security is of the essence.

Over two decades of war, American officials accused Pakistan of playing double games by pledging to fight terrorism and work with Washington while cultivating the Taliban and other extremist groups that attacked US forces in Afghanistan. Islamabad, meanwhile, referred to failed promises of a supportive government in Kabul after the US drove the Taliban from power after the 9/11 attacks when extremist groups sought refuge in eastern Afghanistan and carried out deadly attacks across Pakistan.

But the US wants Pakistani counter-terrorism cooperation and could obtain permission to fly surveillance flights to Afghanistan or other intelligence cooperations. And Pakistan wants US military aid and good relations with Washington as its leaders openly celebrate the rise of the Taliban.

“For the past 20 years, Pakistan has been critical to the US military for a variety of logistics purposes. What was really worrying is that unfortunately there wasn’t much trust, ”said US MP Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “I think the question is, can we overcome this story to come to a new understanding?”

Former diplomats and intelligence officials in both countries say the opportunities for cooperation have been severely limited by the events of the past two decades and Pakistan’s ongoing competition with India. The previous Afghan government, with strong New Delhi support, routinely accused Pakistan of hosting the Taliban. The new Taliban administration includes officials who American officials have long believed to be linked to the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, said he understood “the temptation of officials in both countries to take advantage of the situation” and find common ground. But Haqqani said he expected Pakistan to “give the Taliban all possible cooperation.”

“This was a moment Pakistan has been waiting for for 20 years,” said Haqqani, now at the Hudson Institute think tank. “You now feel like you have a satellite state.”

US officials are trying to quickly build what President Joe Biden describes as “beyond the horizon” to monitor and stop terrorist threats.

Without a partner country on the border with Afghanistan, the US has to fly surveillance drones over long distances and limit the time they can use to monitor targets. The US also lost most of its network of informants and intelligence partners in the now ousted Afghan government, making it crucial to find common ground with other governments that have more resources in the country.

Pakistan could help by granting American spy planes from the Persian Gulf “overflight” rights or allowing the US to station surveillance or counterterrorism teams along its border with Afghanistan. There are few other options among Afghanistan’s neighbors. Iran is a US opponent. And Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan are all affected to different degrees by Russian influence.

No agreements are known to date. CIA director William Burns visited Islamabad earlier this month to meet with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani army chief, and Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the head of the ISI, according to a statement by the Pakistani government. Burns and Hameed have also visited Kabul separately in recent weeks to meet with Taliban leaders. The CIA declined to comment on the visits.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi noted this week that Islamabad had cooperated with US inquiries to facilitate peace talks before the Taliban came to power and that it had agreed to US military inquiries during the war.

“We have been criticized many times for not doing enough,” Qureshi told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “But we weren’t valued enough for doing what was done.”

Qureshi would not answer directly whether Pakistan would allow surveillance equipment to be deployed or drones to fly over it.

“You don’t have to be physically there to exchange information,” he said of the US. “There are smarter ways of doing this.”

The CIA and ISI have a long history in Afghanistan that dates back to their common goal of arming mujahideen – “freedom fighters” – against the occupation of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The CIA sent weapons and money to Afghanistan through Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden was one of these fighters. Others became leaders of the Taliban, who emerged victorious from a civil war in 1996 and took control of most of the country. The Taliban gave refuge to bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, who carried out fatal attacks on Americans abroad in 1998 and then hit the United States on September 11, 2001.

After 9/11, the US immediately sought Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Released cables released by the National Security Archive of George Washington University show that officials in the administration of President George W. Bush made several demands on Pakistan, from intercepting arms shipments to al-Qaeda to providing US intelligence information and permission to Military and intelligence planes fly over Pakistan territory.

The CIA would carry out hundreds of drone strikes from Pakistan against al Qaeda leaders and others allegedly linked to terrorist groups. Hundreds of civilians died in the strikes, according to outside observers, leading to widespread protests and public anger in Pakistan.

Pakistan, meanwhile, continued to be accused of hosting the Taliban after the US-backed coalition ousted the group in Kabul. And bin Laden was killed in 2011 by US special forces in a secret raid on a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, home of the country’s military academy. The bin Laden operation led many in the US to question whether Pakistan was hosting bin Laden and angered Pakistanis who believed the raid violated their sovereignty.

For years, CIA officials tried to confront their Pakistani counterparts after gathering additional evidence that Pakistani intelligence officers helped the Taliban transport money and fighters into a then-growing insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, said Douglas London, who ran the anti- CIA terrorist operations in South Asia until 2018.

“They said, ‘You just come into my office and tell me where the location is,'” he said. “Usually they just paid lip service to us and said they couldn’t confirm the information.”

London, author of the forthcoming book The Recruiter, said he expected American intelligence to consider establishing a partnership with Pakistan on common enemies like al-Qaeda or Islamic State-Khorasan, who were most recently responsible for the deadly suicide attack Had taken in front of the Kabul airport month during the final days of the US evacuation.

The risk, according to London, is sometimes “your partner is just as much a threat to you as the enemy you are pursuing”.

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The Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this United Nations report.

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