Pakistan roots for Karzai
August 12, 2009
ISLAMABAD—Pakistan is rooting for incumbent President Hamid Karzai to win Afghan elections, hoping polls foster stability as a fierce Taliban insurgency spills between both nations, analysts say.

Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries bound together in the new US foreign policy buzz word Af-Pak, are neighbours with relations scarred by decades of mistrust that ebb and flow with different regimes.

Pakistan's powerful intelligence agencies were pivotal in passing on cash and weapons provided by a covert CIA operation to arm the mujahedeen who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 to 1989.

In the ensuing Afghan civil war, the Pakistan authorities backed the Taliban as part of its determination to counter the influence of chief rival India.

When the Taliban seized power in 1996, Pakistan supported the pariah regime, only severing ties under intense US pressure after the Taliban were accused of sheltering those behind the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Accusations continue to fly between the two countries over where remnants of the Taliban regime are training and regrouping, with both nations increasingly destabilised by the resurgent Islamist hardliners.

But analysts say Karzai is perceived as more sympathetic to Pakistan than many of his challengers in the August 20 presidential election.

"Karzai is most likely to be re-elected and it is good for Pakistan because the civilian leadership here has developed a good rapport with him," said Ishtiaq Ahmed, a professor at Islamabd's Quaid-i-Azam University.

"Relationships between Pakistan and Afghanistan have significantly improved and will be further boosted with Karzai's re-election. There is a US-backed process under which the two leaders have been interacting in third countries."

There is also shared resolve built over time that both countries must work together to try and quell the Taliban insurgency that knows no borders.

"Karzai has understood there is also insurgency in Pakistan and has stopped accusing Pakistan of not doing enough to stem the Taliban," said Islamabad's former ambassador to Kabul, Rustam Shah Mohmand.

Afghanistan's relationship with India, however, remains a rumbling source of fear for some in Pakistan.

A Western diplomat based in Islamabad said that while the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari has built good relations with Karzai, suspicion lingered in military and intelligence circles.

"At this level, the relationships are more suspicious towards Karzai, and his relations with India," the diplomat said, citing New Delhi's heavy investment in development and construction in Afghanistan.

Another source of contention, regardless of who wins the elections, is the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and fears that new offensives might force more militants to escape across the border into Pakistan.

There are currently about 100,000 foreign soldiers -- most of them from the United States -- in Afghanistan helping the impoverished government battle the Taliban, who were toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

US President Barack Obama, unveiling his new strategy to turn around the Afghan war, put Pakistan at the heart of the fight to defeat Al-Qaeda and vowed to boost US aid and assistance to the nuclear-armed Muslim nation.

In early July, the US military launched one of its biggest offensives in Afghanistan, flying 4,000 US Marines into battle against the Taliban in Helmand, just across the border from Pakistan's insurgency-plagued southwest.

"There is no indication the US will pull out as a result of elections. They want more troops in Afghanistan, they have their own plan," said Pakistani expert on Afghan affairs, Rahimullah Yusufzai.

"More troops means more fighting, no Taliban ceasefire and no laying down of arms by the militants... if more troops land and war escalates in Afghanistan, it will increase problems for Pakistan," he added.

Access Interview at