Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari Since the release of tens of thousands of secret documents by whistle-blower WikiLeaks in July 2010, which implicated Pakistan with supporting Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are witnessing a downward spiral. A series of statements issued by President Hamid Karzai and his National Security Advisor, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, since then seem to once more harp on the tune of taking the war against terror into Pakistans western border areas where the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda reportedly reside. On July29, President Karzai said: The war against terrorism is not in the villages or houses of Afghanistanbut in the sanctuaries, sources of funding and training [of terrorism] and they lie outside Afghanistan. Similarly, on August 26, the Afghan National Security Advisor, demanded the imposition of sanctions on Pakistan saying: Pakistani generals and others that we know definitely are involved in supporting terrorist activities. The same day, Karzai during his meeting with head of US CENTCOM, General James Mattis, stated that war on terror could not be won as long as militant havens outside his country remained active. This renewed diatribe against Pakistan by the Afghan leadership has surprised many in Pakistan. This was because Karzai after his re-election as President in November 2009 was being viewed as desirous of improving relations with Pakistan, which he believed could help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table leading to a political resolution of the Afghan imbroglio. Karzais effort to co-opt Pakistan to find a political solution was largely driven by fears that were generated by President Barack Obamas announcement to initiate gradual withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan by July 2011. This seemingly short-lived bonhomie between Afghanistan and Pakistan could also be viewed in the backdrop of acrimonious relations between the incumbent US administration and Karzai government, in which the former seems to be focusing more on pushing Karzai to address internal wea-knesses in Afghanistan such as rampant corruption and bad governance. The USAs strategic review of Afghanistan also put in place a counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy that seems to be largely failing to defeat the Taliban insurgency so far. President Karzais recent criticism of Pakistan seems to stem from many reasons. Firstly, he is under intense domestic and international pressure on issues such as rampant corruption and bad governance. One of the reasons for failure of current COIN strategy was ineptness of the Afghan government to put in place a government-in-a-box to provide governance after an area is cleared of insurgents control. The military operation code named Moshtarak to clear Marja in Kandahar in February 2010 is a vivid example of this failure. Secondly, the sacking of top military commander, General McChrystal, by President Obama and his replacement with General David Petraeus has reignited a debate within the US administration vis--vis pursuing a counterinsurgency (COIN) or a counterterrorism (CT) strategy in Afghanistan. While COIN is a broad strategy that mainly focuses on wresting control of the area from insurgents and establishing government control, CT mainly emphasises on targeting insurgent leadership in Afghanistan, as well as those who reportedly take refuge across the border in Pakistan. Karzai would be more favourably inclined towards a CT strategy since it would absolve him of the responsibility to provide good governance to areas cleared of Taliban insurgents. Besides, various COIN operations in Afghanistan have resulted in terrible civilian casualties that tend to discredit the Afghan government and the coalition forces, and also proved counterproductive. In addition, any COIN operations would require public support which is presently lacking, as is being witnessed in the case of Kandahar where plans to conduct a military operation have been called off. A focus by the foreign troops on CT strategy, including a major emphasis on rooting out reported sanctuaries in Pakistan, would temporarily take pressure off Karzai. Such an approach is also helpful to Karzai given the fact that Afghanistans parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in September 2010. While the presence of some Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistans border areas could not be ruled out, Karzai seems to forget that the insurgent network in Afghanistan exercises autonomy on operational level, with local commanders planning and executing militant attacks and raising finances and recruits on their own. With the Taliban insurgency spread to more than 80 percent of the Afghan territory, including provinces far away from the Pak-Afghan border like Herat, Faryab, Badghis and Kunduz, it is practically unimaginable to hint at any support the Taliban in these provinces could be getting from Pakistan. Thirdly, Karzais initial efforts to woo the insurgents in Afghanistan through the much publicised Taliban Integration Plan, as well as holding secret parleys with their leadership, has hit snags either due to the US opposition or Taliban leaderships refusal to hold any such negotiations in the given circumstances when they are winning. At the same time, Karzai has met stiff opposition over his plans to engage the Taliban insurgents from non-Pashtun segments of the population which tends to divide the public opinion on ethnic lines. The dismissal of top officials in Afghanistan in June 2010, such as Hanif Atmar and Amrullah Saleh of the Afghan Interior Ministry and National Directorate of Security (NDS), as well as relocation of anti-Taliban and non-Pashtun General Bismillah Khan from head of Afghan National Army (ANA) to Afghan Interior Ministry, was meant to remove elements who had been opposed to the negotiations with the Taliban. However, failure on this account seems to have forced Karzai to fall back upon popular public support by castigating Pakistan and declaring publicly, on August 22, that there are no formal talks being held with the insurgents. Fourthly, Karzai seems to have been buoyed by General Petraeus statements, on August 16, in which he said that US troops may stay longer and that July 2011 withdrawal date will be conditions based. This may have given Karzai the room to manoeuvre viz. Pakistan after ascertaining himself that there would not be troops withdrawal until 2014. Karzai might be thinking that a hot pursuit of Taliban in the Pakistan territory might weaken the Taliban and bring them under tremendous pressure to hold talks with the Karzai government. The Afghan administration also seems to be genuinely disturbed by the growing Pak-US engagement. On August 23, Spanta urged the US to re-evaluate its friendship with Pakistan, describing US support to the latter as a strategic mistake. The US, however, rejected, Spantas suggestion, instead reiterating that Pakistan is a strategic country of direct importance and impact to the United States. Having failed to convince the US, Kabul seems to be firmly aligning itself with New Delhi. On August 24, Afghan Foreign Minister, Zalmai Rasoul, during his visit to India, emphasised the need to ensure the denial of safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorist and extremist groups targeting Afghanistan and other countries in the region. Rasouls visit was immediately followed by Spanta, who said in New Delhi that we must destroy terror sanctuaries. We must eliminate training centres and that Afghanistan has evidence of cross-border involvement in the attacks on the Indian Embassy in October 2009. Spanta urged New Delhi to broaden its engagement in Afghanistan, as well as enhancing Afghan security capabilities. It seems Kabul wants to keep its channels open with all the neighbouring countries in order to be in the driving seat viz. domestic and international developments affecting Afghanistan. By exhorting ISAF and NATO to carry war into Pakistan, Karzai is attempting to desta-bilise whatever semblance of stability is left in Pakistans western border areas. Since it is widely believed that Afghan Taliban leadership is concentrated around Quetta, any unilateral military action or drone strikes would have the impact of inflaming public sentiments in Balochistan that has remained free of Talibanisation so far. The writer is associate research fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Na-nyang Technological University, Singapore. Email: