Islamabad, April 19 : Pakistan is making efforts to befriend Afghan President Hamid Karzai, so that it can sidestep the United States and improve its own leverage in Afghanistan, a US newspaper has said.
In the latest development in the Af-Pak relationship, Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha accompanied Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on a visit to Kabul on Saturday.
US diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul declined to comment on the Pakistani delegation’s visit to Afghanistan, and appeared to know little about the intention of the Afghan-Pakistan Joint Commission unveiled with considerable fanfare by the two sides in Kabul as a vehicle to end the war, The New York Times reported.
To some extent, the Americans have been coaxing the Afghan and Pakistani leadership to talk to each other, but not at the cost of keeping the US out of the loop, or of concocting solutions that are against American interests, US officials said.
The Pakistanis’ efforts to improve relations with Karzai- whom they had given the cold shoulder until recently- was but the latest example of attempts to sidestep the US in order to safeguard Pakistani interests in Afghanistan, the report said.
The Pakistanis may well have scored an early gain with Karzai, reportedly persuading the Afghan president that a 400,000-strong Afghan Army favoured by the Americans is unsustainable and should only number 100,000, said a Pakistani familiar with General Kayani’s thinking.
For their part, American officials say that they are reluctant to include Pakistan in the early manoeuvrings on peace in Afghanistan because they are concerned that Islamabad will block concessions that the US wants from the Taliban, said the report.
In particular, the US wants to keep pressure on the terror network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani- a long-time asset of Pakistan- whose fighters cross from North Waziristan into Afghanistan to strike at US and NATO soldiers, it added.
A senior American official in Washington acknowledged that the Pakistanis had been cut out in many instances because they were not trusted.
The impression of the US leaving Pakistan out in the cold is particularly disconcerting to General Kayani, as he was granted a three-year service extension last July partly on the grounds that he would win a seat for Pakistan at the Afghan negotiating table, said the report.
“The feeling of being allies was never there,” said a senior Pakistani military officer, who has interacted closely with Washington since 2001.
“I’ve said to the Americans: ‘You are going to fail in Afghanistan and you are going to make us the fall guy.’ I still think this is going to happen,” the officer added.