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Pakistan: Ally, Adversary or Conditional Partner?

Pakistan has agreed to open key supply routes to Afghanistan after a US apology, but questions linger over the nature of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Jeff Brown interviews retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

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    And we explore this more now with retired Army General Jack Keane. He was vice chief of staff from 1999 to 2003, and has served as an informal adviser to various commanders in Afghanistan since then. He now has his own consulting firm. And Vali Nasr is Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He served in the Obama administration's State Department focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Vali Nasr, I will start with you. A good and important step? What do you make of this, both the apology and the reopening of the truck routes?

  • VALI NASR, Former State Department Official:

    I think it's a very good and important step, largely because these two countries need one another. Pakistan is very fragile and unstable. And the United States needs Pakistan in the war on terror, for finishing off the war in Afghanistan, and the stability of Pakistan matters to us greatly.

    And the way in which this relationship was unraveling was going to put at jeopardy America's larger interests in the region. Unfortunately, we had got ourselves into a position where this apology issue had become a stumbling block to moving forward. And it's very good that it's removed.


    General Keane, what do you think, the stumbling block removed? Why did this become such a stumbling block?

    GEN. JACK KEANE (RET.), U.S. Army: Well, first of all, I agree. Obviously, it's a step in the right direction. And we get to use to use our main supply route, although the other supply route was being used very effectively, as well as the air line of communication.

    The other supply route, for your viewing audience, is the one to the north, as opposed through the Khyber Pass. I mean, the stumbling blocks were — really surrounded accountability for those, the Pakistanis believed, who were involved in the killing of their troops, as well as a public apology. That was much of it.

    Also, the Pakistanis were charging some increased outrageous prices, you know, per truck and per container to make its way along that supply line. But, look it, it's a step in the right direction. And it's better for it.


    But, General Keane, there were — at least by reports, there was resistance to issuing that apology. The State Department seemed to want to. And at least through reports we got, the Pentagon and others didn't.


    Well, that's true.

    And it's sort of a soft apology anyway. Look it, I got briefed on this operation in January when I was doing an assessment for General Mattis and General Allen, General Allen, the commander in Afghanistan.

    And, I mean, the facts were pretty clear. The fact of the matter is we were landing in helicopters and were brought under fire by Pakistani soldiers. And they said they mistook us for Taliban. The Taliban have no helicopters. Our helicopters, even at night, are very identifiable in terms of the type of aircraft that they are.

    And we knew that. And we knew that was the fundamental problem with this incident. Also, the Pakistanis were in locations where they were reported not to be. So that is why our people held so fast to this, because they clearly felt that the initiation of fires was the catalyst for the tragedy that unfolded over a series of hours.


    Do you think, Vali Nasr, that this incident is now clear as to what happened and put to rest?


    I think that, in some ways, we have become too focused on the details of this issue.

    The kind of apology that was given today could have been given in November. In other words, we didn't intend to kill Pakistani soldiers. There was a mistake. Whether it was their mistake, our mistake, in the end, we could have said we didn't intend it, for this to happen. We could have moved along past this.

    The reality is that there's a lot of issues we don't like about Pakistani behavior in Afghanistan, their support for extremism, et cetera. But we need Pakistan. We need access to their airspace to carry out drone attacks. We need access to their airspace in order to be able to fly military supplies from the Persian Gulf into Afghanistan.

    And we're going to need their supply routes much more for getting our equipment and troops out of Afghanistan than supplying…



    So, that's the most important issue. And nitpicking about whether they shot first or we shot first doesn't solve any of those bigger issues.


    I wanted to follow up on that.

    You talked about bringing supplies out, because there's a lot of emphasis on the truck routes being open to bring things in. Fill that in a little bit. What gets brought in? And, eventually, you're talking about bring things out when we — as we pull back.



    I mean, air routes are not enough for taking the heavy equipment we have in Afghanistan. And as we begin the process of drawdown, we are going to need the supply routes even more than before. We're dealing with a very prickly, problematic friend or ally or adversary, whatever way we want to put it.

    But the reality is that what we have learned is that, by pressure alone, we're not going to get the collaboration we need. We have to have a positive momentum in this relationship that is better for us. It's better for our goals, and it's better for the agenda that we have in Afghanistan and in the war on terror.


    Well, you just — and, General Keane, I want you to pick up on this, believe, Vali, you just used the expression, ally, adversary, however you want to put it.

    General Keane, what is our relationship at the moment?


    Well, I think our relationship has certainly changed from an allied relationship with pretty good cooperation to one that is more of a partnership that's based more on conditions.

    And, listen, I couldn't disagree more with Vali on this in terms of our relationship. You know, coddling the pacts that we have done now for 10 years has clearly protracted this war in Afghanistan. We have got two sanctuaries, Afghan sanctuaries in Pakistan that Pakistan military leaders provide information on NATO and U.S. operations inside Afghanistan.

    They provide training, and they provide resources. I mean, that's outrageous. And if that isn't enough, there are two fertilizer factories ostensibly which actually produce ammonium nitrate, which is the basic ingredient in 85 percent of all of the IEDs that maim and kill our troops.

    And, finally, there are bomb factories that we know where they are, have pictures of them in Balochistan and also in Sharman, Pakistan, which are used to produce those IEDs as a final product. This is why this relationship has frayed and strained and has deteriorated, because even though they do not want to destabilize Pakistan, de facto, they have protracted this war, you know, for all of these years because those sanctuaries provide that kind of support for the Taliban that are fighting inside Afghanistan.


    All right.

    Let me get — let me let Vali Nasr respond to that, the charge of coddling the Pakistanis.


    Well, the charge of coddling Pakistanis goes a long way back. It goes to really even after 9/11, when we knew they had certain relationships with the Taliban. We decided to treat them as an ally.

    But the reality is that, all the problems that General Keane says notwithstanding, we still got more out of Pakistan. We had a positive relationship with them. And the policy of pressure, and particularly this issue of breaking the relationship over the apology, has led to less cooperation on Taliban, on al-Qaida. It has put to risk our access to drones, strikes in Pakistan.

    And essentially the key issue is that, what is it that we want out of this relationship? We want the Pakistanis to cooperate more. And we got more cooperation from them when there was something in the relationship for them. We got less cooperation from them when we only applied pressure, with no positive aspect to the relationship.


    And let me ask you both briefly in the time we have left, starting with you, Vali Nasr, what do you want to happen next? What do you think should happen next?


    Well, ultimately, we have certain goals here.

    Our goal is an orderly exit from Afghanistan and the fact that that country wouldn't fall apart the minute we left. We want to be able to continue to hunt al-Qaida in that border region. And we want a stable Pakistan. And, ultimately, we have to work — despite the inherent characters of the Pakistani state that General Keane laid out, we have to find a strategy to be able to get our goals with what we have to deal with.


    General Keane, what do you want to happen next?


    Well, I do agree that the Pakistanis want a stable Afghanistan, but they want to significantly influence it in terms of their own national security objectives.

    In my judgment, when we pull most out of our troops by 2014 and we leave a relatively small force, 20,000-25,000, possibly as a residual force and the Afghan national security forces, I believe the future security of Afghanistan is still largely at risk because of those sanctuaries. We have got to get the Pakistanis to stop supporting those sanctuaries. And then I think that is the elephant in the room here.


    All right.

    General Jack Keane, Vali Nasr, thank you both very much.


    Thank you.

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