The Cable

Is Pakistan trying to push the U.S. out of Afghanistan?

As the United States debates the future of its role in Afghanistan, anti-U.S. rhetoric in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is on the rise. Now, a small cadre of officials in Washington and Islamabad are doing their best to get the embattled U.S.-Pakistan relationship back on track.

The most recent public evidence of this phenomenon came Wednesday, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani "bluntly told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Americans had failed them both," in a recent meeting and that Karzai "should forget about allowing a long-term U.S. military presence in his country."

The article explained that the information on the meeting came from pro-U.S. elements in Karzai's camp, who apparently wanted to scare the Obama administration into speeding up negotiations on a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Karzai. That agreement could provide for U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when President Barack Obama has said the transition to Afghan security will be complete.

Senior U.S. and Pakistani officials, in interviews with The Cable, said they could not confirm the exact quotes attributed to Gilani but doubted that he would criticize the United States in such stark terms to Karzai. However, officials on both sides of the relationship said that Gilani, along with large parts of the Pakistani government bureaucracy, were now preparing for an endgame in Afghanistan that doesn't include a U.S. military role and doesn't accord with U.S. expectations for the region's future.

"Major international military involvement in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, so everybody is adapting to that," a senior U.S. official said. The official noted that this included the Pakistanis, who are forging a bilateral relationship with Karzai that is independent of the United States. "Everyone is trying to position themselves as to what they think is in their best interests. But at the end of the day, the overlapping interest is a stable Afghanistan."

Referring to the Wall Street Journal story about the Karzai-Gilani meeting, the U.S. official said, "The Afghans may be signaling that bad things can happen if they don't get what they want in the strategic partnership agreement."

A senior Pakistani official told The Cable that the alleged statements by Gilani were unlikely, but that there is a basic disagreement between the U.S. and Pakistani governments about the way forward in Afghanistan.

"American policy seems to be they want to continue to fight while trying to talk [with the Taliban]," the Pakistani official said. "The Pakistani preference is for the negotiations to take priority."

It's true that many other countries -- including China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia -- are also discussing the endgame in Afghanistan with the Pakistani government, but Pakistan does not believe that the crucial role played by the United States can be replaced by another power.

"As long as the Americans play straight with Pakistan and take into account Pakistani concerns, Pakistan would rather work with the U.S.," the senior Pakistani official said.

Of course, that opinion is not universally shared inside the Pakistani government. Elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's primary spy agency, and the Pakistani military are still resisting cooperation with the United States and maintaining ties to groups fighting against U.S. forces.

Weeks of discord related to the killing of two men who were allegedly ISI agents by CIA contractor Raymond Davis brought cooperation to a halt, both on intelligence and diplomatic matters. A major trilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan-U.S. meeting was cancelled and the ISI-CIA relationship was temporarily frozen.

The U.S. and Pakistani governments are now starting to set relations back on course. The new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman will travel to Pakistan in early May for a trilateral meeting with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts. If all goes well, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could travel to Islamabad in late May, although nothing is set in stone.

Inside the Pakistani government, three key officials who deal with the United States recently had their tours extended until 2013: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani. All three are considered to be constructive interlocutors with the United States and are seen as key to mending U.S.-Pakistan relations.

However, there are fundamental differences between the United States and Pakistan that ensure the relationship between the two countries will never be entirely smooth sailing.  The Pakistani official said that some level of discord is to be expected as Pakistan looks out for its own interests in a post-war Afghanistan.

"Pakistan has never been able to get what it wants in Afghanistan, but it will never give up trying," the official said.

There's also the issue of the United States' alliance with India, Pakistan's arch-rival. Though the Obama administration feels it has bent over backwards to give Pakistan aid and high-level attention, the government in Islamabad still feels that it plays second fiddle to India in eyes of the Washington.

In the end, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan may never be as important as Washington's ties with New Delhi, the senior Pakistani official said, but the administration does not have to choose between the two.

As the official put it: "You don't have to fuck Pakistan in order to make love to India."

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Petraeus’s optimism about Afghanistan not shared at CIA

CIA Director Leon Panetta and ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus will get new assignments Thursday, with Panetta being nominated to head the Pentagon and Petraeus replacing him at the CIA. But the CIA and the military have completely different assessments of the NATO-led force's progress in Afghanistan, placing Petraeus in charge of a bureaucracy largely skeptical of his optimistic analysis of the war.

A senior administration official confirmed Wednesday that President Barack Obama will announce the moves Thursday, along with the appointment of CENTCOM Deputy Commander Gen. John Allen to replace Petraeus and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to replace Karl Eikenberry as envoy to Kabul. If all the Senate confirmations go smoothly, Panetta will take over for Defense Secretary Robert Gates on July 1 and Petraeus will move to the CIA in early September. CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell would act as temporary head of the CIA over the summer.

Petraeus will resign his military commission when he moves to the CIA. But he is not likely to jettison his opinions about the war in Afghanistan, which are much rosier than the assessments that have been coming out of the intelligence community.

"It is ISAF's assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas," Petraeus testified on March 16 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The progress achieved has put us on the right azimuth to accomplish the objective agreed upon at last November's Lisbon summit, that of Afghan forces in the lead throughout the country by the end of 2014."

He went on to commend the progress of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan police, praising the success of the troop surge in Afghanistan as providing space for the government led by President Hamid Karzai to increase its responsibilities throughout the country. He also praised the Pakistani military's efforts to root out insurgents in their midst.

That analysis is quite different from the intelligence community's latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan and Pakistan from last December, which stated that large areas of Afghanistan were still vulnerable to quick takeover by the Taliban and that Pakistan was still supporting insurgents in both countries.

The leaked NIE caused a rift between the CIA and the Pentagon, with military officials claiming that the intelligence community was not up to date on progress is Afghanistan. With Petraeus now heading to the CIA, he will be charged with evaluating his own rosy assessments of the course of the war.

"The specific guy who was responsible for producing a positive prognosis is now going to a job where he has to judge his own prognosis and grade his own work," said Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The institutional culture of the military is generally optimistic and can do. The institutional culture of the intelligence community is generally skeptical and pessimistic."

Petraeus is an unusually open-minded and intelligence-friendly military officer, Biddle said, but he will nevertheless face a culture clash at the CIA's Langley headquarters.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also expressed some reservations about Petraeus becoming CIA director.

"In Iraq, at CENTCOM and in Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus has been a consumer of intelligence and has commanded DoD intelligence resources. But that is a different role than leading the top civilian intelligence agency. I look forward to hearing his vision for the CIA and his plans to make sure the CIA is collecting the type of intelligence that policymakers need," she said in a statement e-mailed to The Cable.

It is true, Biddle noted, that Petraeus doesn't have a lot of experience in the intelligence community, but that hasn't previously been a disqualification for the job. "That was also true of lots of past CIA directors," he said.

A more natural promotion for Petraeus might have been to the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright is seen as the leading contender for that post due to his closeness to Obama, and despite accusations that he slept with a drunk subordinate - charges on which he was cleared.

Panetta is set to take over the Pentagon this summer, where he will work directly with Petraeus, who will still be serving as ISAF commander. The summer, typically known as Afghanistan's "fighting season," will represent Panetta's first test as secretary of defense.   A senior administration official said that Panetta was initially reluctant to take the job, but finally agreed on April 25.

"Leon loved being the director of the CIA and it showed... It was a difficult decision for him to leave the agency," the official said. "The president asked him, Leon thought about it, consulted with his spouse and family, and on Monday evening, he said yes."

The transition planning at the Pentagon is already underway. Marcel Lettre, formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, shifted earlier this year to a new role in Gates's office, managing the transition process for Gates's departure and his successor's arrival.  Jeremy Bash, Panetta's chief of staff at the CIA and a former colleague of Lettre's on the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also could become Panetta's chief of staff at the Pentagon.

Of course, Panetta will immediately be tasked with weighing in on a host of personnel changes at the Pentagon. Will Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn stay on? Nobody knows. Panetta will also have a role in picking the next Joint Chiefs chairman and the next vice chairman if Cartwright, as expected, gets the promotion. A game of musical chairs among senior military officers could also see new jobs for Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James Stavridis, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, Gen. Ray Odierno, and many others.

Meanwhile, will Petraeus, out of uniform and out of the Defense Department, be able to confine himself to the job of producing objective intelligence analysis and stay away from policymaking?

"General Petraeus has deep experience in the areas of intelligence and as director of the CIA I think he would clearly understand what the role is there," the senior administration official said.