(DID News): In Afghanistan, surging violence has worsened the sluggish pace of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, jeopardizing a potential settlement to end the country’s decades of war. Reducing the bloodshed is a necessary step toward building trust for ongoing negotiations—a fact complicated by the fact that the Taliban view fighting as their primary source of leverage over the Afghan government. Pakistan—by virtue of its long-standing relationship with the Taliban and their senior leaders, many of whom have resided within its borders—is arguably best positioned to persuade the Taliban to dial back the violence. But Islamabad is playing a game of chicken with Washington by pretending it cannot exert additional pressure over the Taliban. If the Biden administration wants any chance at persuading Pakistan to push the Taliban to reduce violence, then it is going to have to act quickly and make some tough decisions. Pakistan helped to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in Doha but stopped there. Rather than pushing the Taliban for an outright reduction in use of force, Islamabad has instead opted to tacitly support the Taliban’s bargaining position to enter into a cease-fire only on certain conditions: further concessions by Kabul and the departure of U.S. troops. The country’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, recently said as much during a Jan. 26 phone call, when he told his Afghan counterpart that pushing talks forward would “facilitate [a] reduction in violence, leading to [a] ceasefire.” On Jan. 21, Khan’s adviser, Moeed Yusuf, reiterated that “Pakistan in itself can’t get a [Taliban] ceasefire.” This statement echoes previous claims that Pakistan could not convince the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul. So long as negotiations continue and U.S. troop levels do not increase, Islamabad may believe it is sitting pretty, regardless of the violence Afghans face. There are several reasons why Pakistan may not want to pressure the Taliban further. For one, Islamabad is sensitive to what it characterizes as years of thankless pressure by Washington to “do more.” It avers that its influence over the Taliban was reduced by the appointment of hardliner Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai as the Taliban’s chief negotiator to vigorously tow the line of Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada and the group’s military commission, neither of which is ready to stop fighting. Some analysts agree with this assessment. Islamabad also claims it has avoided taking a more coercive approach for fear that such action could have serious domestic security consequences—the Afghan Taliban could turn their guns on Pakistan by partnering with Pakistan’s own violent extremists, including sectarian groups and the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban. And it is widely assumed in Western reporting that parts of Pakistan’s military establishment share sympathies for the Taliban’s struggle, another factor that potentially complicates Islamabad’s willingness to pressure the group. But the Pakistani public generally opposes the group, and diplomatic ties are waning too. Despite Islamabad’s hesitations, the prevailing view in Washington is that by bringing the Taliban to the table without convincing them to reduce violence, Pakistan sold the Trump administration a car without an engine. Of course, changing the status quo is not easy. Replicating the failed “maximum pressure” campaign used on Iran, as some proposals suggest, would be a grave U.S. error in Pakistan. Too much pressure, such as threats to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism if the government does not sufficiently attempt to coerce the Taliban to tone down violence, not only would be a policy of questionable proportionality but also would lead Islamabad to dig in its heels. By contrast, a no-strings-attached “strategic love and affection” would end in free-riding. Instead, the Biden administration must use its leverage carefully. The U.S. should engage in messaging that is firm, results oriented, and clear about the specific consequences that Pakistan will face at various levels of cooperation with the Taliban.