Bush, Zardari Meet as U.S.-Pakistan Relations Deteriorate

When Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, met privately with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York Tuesday, the deteriorating security situation along the Afghan-Pakistani border was certainly a central topic of discussion. But while cross-border attacks from both sides of the frontier are seriously exacerbating relations between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States, they might also paradoxically be driving the three countries to consider ever-deeper levels of cooperation.

Afghan officials, and their American and NATO allies, have long criticized their Pakistani counterparts for failing to suppress the numerous Islamist militants based in Pakistan's remote northwest border regions. Many Taliban leaders established sanctuary in Pakistan's so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) -- which have traditionally enjoyed considerable autonomy from Islamabad -- after the American invasion of Afghanistan drove them and their al-Qaida allies from power. Fighters belonging to the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida, and other extremist groups have also established safe havens in the FATA and nearby regions, turning the area into a base of operations from which to wage an increasingly successful cross-border guerrilla war against the pro-U.S. government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan and NATO military analysts believe that border security has grown even worse since Pakistan's new civilian government, led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, began negotiating peace agreements with the tribal leaders earlier this year. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently said that, "The challenges that we're facing in Afghanistan . . . are in some measure a result of the relaxation of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border." While the Gilani government has defended the agreements as necessary to obtain local assistance in curbing guerrilla activities, it has also resumed military operations against those militant groups in the FATA that have refused to cooperate. The Sept. 20 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, which killed 53 people, underscored the dilemmas facing President Zardari and the civilian government as they seek to manage the insurgency. Fidayeen-e-Islam, the group which claimed responsibility for the Marriott bombing, warned that further attacks will occur until all American involvement in Pakistan ceases.

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