By JANE PERLEZ
Published: October 19, 2011
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An unusually powerful phalanx ofPresident Obama’s top officials, charged with organizing an orderly exit from Afghanistan, will face an outwardly confident, almost defiant Pakistan during talks that open in an atmosphere of rancor here on Thursday night.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; the new C.I.A. director, David H. Petraeus; and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, will, among other things, be asking the Pakistani Army to tamp down the terrorist actions of theHaqqani network that are killing Americans in Afghanistan, according to American officials and Pakistanis with knowledge of the situation.Beyond the cost, General Kayani has predicted that the novice Afghan National Army, a wholly new institutional idea in Afghanistan, will crumble into a slew of militias that will probably turn on Pakistan once NATO forces leave Afghanistan in 2014.
The head of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, may even agree to try to help on that particular American request, the officials said. There were some very recent signs he was already doing so, a senior American official said.
But General Kayani, and the head of the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, hold fundamentally different views from Washington on how the war in Afghanistan should end, and so far, they are sticking to them, apparently unbothered by threats from Washington to withhold billions of dollars of American military and civilian assistance.
The Pakistani generals are anticipating the American drawdown from Afghanistan that is to begin in December, are watching as the war, in their view, goes badly and are waiting for their share of the Afghan spoils. As they do so, they appear to have little incentive to bargain away their demands or to modify their side of the ledger, officials and analysts here say.
“I see this as a test of wills,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, who is considered one of the few pro-American former Pakistani senior military officers. “There are such deep divergences of policy. Both sides are stuck.”
In essence, General Kayani says he wants a “stable” Afghanistan, a phrase that seems to deliberately echo what the Obama administration says it wants, too. It is an idea the general outlined in a 14-page paper he gave Mr. Obama during a meeting at the White House a year ago, but to which, the general tells people, he has never received a response.
For General Kayani, a sphere of influence for the Haqqani network in eastern Afghanistan — in Paktia, Paktika and Khost Provinces — that abuts Pakistan’s tribal belt is essential, Pakistanis and Americans say.
That is the area where the Haqqanis, who operate as assets of Pakistan inside Afghanistan, have long held sway. They have used the territory, as well as their havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas, to stage attacks on American and NATO facilities in and around Kabul in the last several months.
The strength of the Haqqani forces in these three provinces is particularly galling to Washington, General Masood said, because in comparison, the Americans have been relatively successful in curbing the Taliban, who are Haqqani allies, in the south of Afghanistan.
Another Pakistani demand that clashes with American objectives is a post-conflict Afghanistan that is free from the encroachment of India, Pakistan’s most mortal enemy.
Last month the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, visited New Delhi and sealed a strategic accord that included arrangements for India to train Afghan Army officers. The last thing Pakistan wants is Indian officers replacing NATO troops as trainers in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said. The Pakistanis were “furious” that the Americans did not halt the accord, a senior American official said.
The very effort by the Americans to build a 350,000-strong Afghan Army is a contentious matter with General Kayani. He has said publicly and privately that he doubts the $12 billion annual expenditure by the United States is sustainable. Some American officials have begun to agree, given the growing economic pressures in Washington.
Last month, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the head of training for the Afghan Army, said budget constraints were so onerous that he was saving money by installing fans instead of air-conditioners at Afghan Army bases, and by buying uniforms from Afghan outfitters instead of American ones.
To iron out some of these differences, the Pakistanis have told the Obama administration they would like, and deserve, a place at the peace table alongside the United States and Afghanistan. American officials balk at the idea. The State Department insists it is working on reconciliation but it is too early to talk of a concrete peace process.
In fact, the Pakistanis say they watch in bewilderment as the administration pursues a war and talk strategy, one that calls for American troops to kill the Taliban in Afghanistan while American diplomats search for “reconcilable” Taliban to talk to.
“Pakistan will want clarity on whether the Obama administration has one or several contradictory policies on how to approach the approaching Afghan transition,” said Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. “Pakistan’s preference is for a talk-talk strategy, while the United States is still pursuing a fight-talk one.”
The challenge of the Clinton trip is how to square this. Suspicions are high among American officials that the Pakistanis want to participate in any peace talks to “game out” the solution to Pakistan’s advantage, the senior American official said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistanis were defiant. General Kayani gave the tenor of his outlook when he invited the Pakistani Parliament’s two defense committees to his headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.
Washington could continue to withhold military assistance because the Pakistani Army could well survive without it, he said, according to accounts in the Pakistani press. The civilian aid was so small it was not worth worrying about, he added.
“I could feel the bitterness,” said Tariq Azim, a senator who sits on the Defense Committee. “He was saying that for all we have done we are getting peanuts.”
The army has suffered 12,829 casualties since 2001, including 3,097 killed and an unusually high ratio of one officer killed for every 16 soldiers since it began fighting the Taliban inside Pakistan as part of the American-led war on terrorism, the general told the gathering.
Asked by Mr. Azim if he thought the United States would perhaps bomb or invade Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the Haqqanis keep bases, in a fashion similar to the American bombing of Laos and Cambodia to hit the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, General Kayani gave a rousing answer, the senator said.
The United States would have to think “10 times” before acting that way, he said, according to the senator’s account.
After all, the general said, according to Mr. Azim, Pakistan is a nuclear power, not a weak country like Afghanistan or Iraq.