Although leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan might want the United States to stay in the background as they pursue an accord, it’s unlikely that any agreement could be accomplished without the support of Washington and the international community. Still, perhaps to create additional political space at home, the leaders of both Afghanistan and Pakistan have recently indicated increasing unhappiness with the American role in the region. Karzai, for instance, told NBC that the United States is greatly to blame for Afghanistan’s lack of security and Pakistan’s prime minister complained to the American ambassador that drone attacks are counterproductive. Terrorism, said Karzai, would not be defeated “by attacking Afghan villages and Afghan homes.” Karzai also suggested that unless the United States changed its ways in Afghanistan, he would refuse to cooperate on a long-term security accord that could allow U.S. counterterrorism forces and advisers to be stationed in the country long beyond 2014. In Washington, such talk is seen as bravado, but Obama administration officials recall that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a similar situation, ultimately shocked the United States by rejecting an extension of the American presence.
Even so, the United States is certain to play a leading role in reconciliation talks. According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration has “launched a post-election push to restart moribund peace talks with the Taliban,” despite skepticism that Pakistan will cooperate. One American official told the Post, “We’d like [Pakistan] to go to the Taliban and say, ‘Hey, you guys need to go back and get talks started again. But the question continues to be whether [Pakistan] has both the willingness and the ability to do so.” Toward that end, the United States is seeking to quietly rebuild ties with Pakistan, which were strained almost to the breaking point in 2011 after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and a subsequent border incident that left many Pakistan troops dead, after which Pakistan shut down transit routes for U.S. supplies into Afghanistan.
A hopeful sign that U.S.-Pakistan ties are improving is the Pentagon’s decision this month to release U.S. $688 million in military aid to Pakistan. And many in Washington hope that Senator John Kerry (D-MA), reportedly slated to become secretary of state next year, will use his close ties to Pakistan and President Karzai to nudge Islamabad and Kabul toward an Afghan accord.