Afghan withdrawal puts Pakistan under pressure

Pakistani forces engaged in combat against militias on the Afghan border.

After 11 years, American troops are beginning their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Peace, however, is not certain – and the consequences of failure spread far beyond the Afghan borders.

In 2001, Afghanistan was invaded by the USA. After 9/11, the Western power sought to dismantle al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation responsible for the devastating attacks, and the Taliban government that supported them.

Eleven years later, and Operation Enduring Freedom is coming to an end. In 2014, Afghan forces will take over the country’s security, and put the battered nation on the road to self-governance.

That, at least, is the intention. In reality, a bloody terrorist resistance shows little sign of disappearing. A new government, led by Hamid Karzai, remains fragile. Some say the Taliban is just waiting for NATO to leave before strolling in to reclaim power.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the results of this could be serious.

For America’s War on Terror, Pakistan is an essential ally. In return for fighting the Taliban, it has received billions of dollars from the USA. But the Islamic state, it is widely thought, plays a double game: using America’s cash to fund the very terrorists it is battling.

Explanations for this split personality vary. Some say Pakistan wants to see Afghanistan under a friendly Taliban government. Others think the funding is diverted by rogue forces in the army and Pakistan’s shady security agency, the ISI.

Now the US-Pakistan alliance is in crisis. Relations took a nose dive last April, when US Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory. Meanwhile, American drone strikes have killed hundreds of Pakistani civilians, and catastrophic NATO bombing resulted in the unnecessary deaths of 24 soldiers. These incidents are fertile ground for growing anti-American sentiment. And that makes Pakistan increasingly reluctant to offer the USA support.

This weakening friendship does not bode well for Afghan victory. And ironically for Pakistan, a returning Taliban could open the door to a growing terrorist threat. When such seeds of instability are sown in a nuclear power of 180 million people, the rest of the world could have something to worry about, too.

With friends like these

This depressing scenario, many argue, exposes the folly of US foreign policy. In the past decade, it has used might and money to thrust its will on foreign nations. By failing to respect the lives and sovereignty of Afghan and Pakistani people, it has fuelled the terrorism it set out to destroy.

Others, however, say the USA has been placed in an impossible position. In a genuine attempt to spread democracy and fight terrorism, it has been hamstrung by an untrustworthy ally. By refusing to commit to the side of freedom and peace, they say, Pakistan has denied Afghanistan self-governance, and robbed the world of safety from terror.

You Decide

  1. Has America’s War on Terror done more harm than good?
  2. Do some issues, like international terrorism, override a country’s right to govern itself?


  1. Imagine you are in Pakistan, in a community affected by American drone strikes. Write a letter describing your feelings on the use of unmanned aircraft, and what it means for Pakistan’s relationship with the USA.
  2. Write a three point analysis on why Pakistan is crucial to global security interests.

Some People Say...

“You cannot stop terrorists with weapons.”

What do you think?

Q & A

But what does this really mean outside of Pakistan?
Increased support for terrorist organisations – whether among normal people or by government agencies – is not good news for global security. To add to that worry, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. More instability means an increased threat of nuclear proliferation, possibly to terror groups.
Isn’t Pakistan more worried about India?
On its eastern border, Pakistan is engaged in a decades-old conflict with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The fact that Hamid Karzai’s government is supported by India – which is seeking an important Afghan role – is one of the reasons for Pakistan’s unease toward it. If encirclement by Indian power seems a threat, then further conflict – on the eastern or western borders – could be a real possibility.

Word Watch

A strict Islamist organisation, the Taliban ruled over Afghanistan from 1990 until 2001, when they were ousted from power by NATO forces. During this time they enforced strict Shariah law, harboured terrorists, and amassed a damnable record on human rights. Now, they exist as a fractured insurgency, fighting for power against the US forces and using guerrilla tactics that have proved formidable in the past.
Drone Strikes
Since 2004, the USA has been using unmanned planes to launch attacks on key terrorist targets in Pakistan. These drone strikes have been very successful in taking out terrorist targets. But they have also killed civilians, and are shrouded in secrecy. Many Pakistanis think it is unacceptable for the USA to carry out strikes on the land of an ally.
The Inter-Services Intelligence is Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, that has a record of funding Jihadist militias. Now, some American voices have baldly stated that the ISI funds, and even controls, terrorist agencies like the Haqqani network.
This means a country’s authority over its own land and governance, and its existence as an independent state. It comes from the French soverain, meaning authority and rule.


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