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Opinion: Doomed to disagree

Why Pakistan and the US see the Taliban through different lenses.

In Baluchistan, next door, there has been a low-level rebellion against the Pakistani state for many years. The last thing Pakistan needs is more trouble with the Baluchis. Compare it to the problem Obama faces with some Democratic congressmen. They are hesitant to carry out the president’s wishes, not because they aren’t loyal to the president, but because they know the president’s program will get them into trouble with their home constituencies far from Washington.

Thus Pakistan plays something of a double game. Doing what is necessary to please the Americans, but being careful not to further alienate their already alienated border regions. In the meantime Islamic militants are extending their operations down into the Punjab and the Sind — the Pakistani heartland. Pakistan is willing to crack down on militants, as they finally and reluctantly did in the Swat Valley, when the militants threaten the Pakistani state. But the Taliban was Pakistan’s creation designed to end the chaos of warring warlords following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and to insure a friendly power on the other side of their frontier with India.

Pakistanis have long felt that America uses them when it needs Pakistan, but then discards it like an old Kleenex. They suspect that in the end America will leave Afghanistan in a mess to Pakistan’s detriment.

In Pakistan’s view, to commit too many Pakistani troops to the northwest leaves the frontier with India under-guarded, and one should never underestimate the power of paranoia when it comes to Indo-Pakistani relations. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, in 1947, 1965 and 1971 , as well as a mini-war in Kargil, Kashmir, in 1999 that was sensibly contained. All but one of these wars was fought over Kashmir. Pakistan has encouraged terrorist organizations to harass India over what Pakistan sees as India’s occupation of the Kashmir.

An attack by Pakistan-based terrorists on the Indian parliament in 2001 nearly caused a fourth war with India and Pakistan both rushing troops to the border. But when a similar attack occurred in Mumbai last year cooler heads prevailed and India did not send troops to the border, as the Pakistan-based terrorists had hoped. Tension on the Indian border can only mean less Pakistani military pressure on the Afghan border, or so terrorists hope.

India shares one great fear with the U.S.: It is that a nuclear armed Pakistan will disintegrate into chaos with Islamic militants making the country ungovernable. Therefore, despite provocations, India is moving toward easing tensions with Pakistan. It is no longer reasonable for the Pakistani military to fear an invasion from India, but paranoia doesn’t bow to reason. India could make a further gesture by unilaterally lessening its military presence on the Pakistani border, but the U.S. has to accept and understand that Pakistan will never see the threat in Afghanistan through the same lenses as Americans do.