The leaking of a NATO report claiming that Pakistan's intelligence agency continues to provide support for the Taliban is the latest in a string of events demonstrating a breakdown in the relationship between the West and Pakistan.
Just about one year ago a US contractor was arrested in Lahore after shooting two Pakistanis. This marked the beginning of a year-long continued decline in relations. The discovery of Osama Bin Laden in a garrison town increased a sense that Pakistan was an unreliable partner.
At the same time, there is little hope of success in Afghanistan without Pakistan's engagement. And as moves towards some form of peace process or reconciliation with the Taliban are expedited, the need for Pakistan's involvement becomes greater still.
The leaking of a report suggesting that Pakistan continues to back the Taliban will probably have less impact on Western engagement with Pakistan than the bombing of a Pakistan border-post at the end of November; an act which led Pakistan to prevent NATO supplies transiting via Pakistan. That said, given the urgent need to start rebuilding the relationship it will do little to engender trust.
At the heart of the problem lies a void in Western thinking over how best to deal with Pakistan. Carrots, in the form of large cash transfers, would seem to have singularly failed in reducing Pakistan's ambivalence in its dealings with Afghanistan. And the Western toolkit is somewhat lacking in sticks, short of threatening to withhold those cash transfers, in dealing with nuclear-armed Pakistan.
From a Pakistani perspective, ambivalence would seem to be a relatively sensible strategy. Its military remains fearful of a pro-Indian government in Kabul. And while the West has been critical of Pakistan's decision to hold peace-talks with various Islamist groups in its own tribal areas, it is the West's position that has shifted towards Islamabad's position in relation to engaging with the Taliban.
Events in the early 1990s remain paramount in the minds of many Pakistanis. Within months of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan shifted from being a major ally of the US to having sanctions imposed for its nuclear programme. However much the West protests that this time around there will be a sustained long-term commitment towards Afghanistan, many in Pakistan and elsewhere in the region are sceptical.
While the leaking of the report may have been intended to discredit Pakistan, the apparent lack of detail in exactly how its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, helps the Taliban is telling, and positive. For instance, the report did not provide evidence that the ISI funds or arms the Taliban. For all of the reports suggesting that the ISI aids the Taliban, there is little concrete evidence of the specific processes by which it does.
What this report and others have demonstrated, however, is a widespread belief within the Taliban that Pakistan attempts to dominate them, and an adversity towards this domination.
This in turn highlights the difficulty that will be faced in any peace process, given the conflicting demands of a host of countries. If these difficulties are to be overcome, there primary need is to build, or rebuild, trust between the various 'stakeholders'. The leaking of reports like this will have done little to start that process.
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