U.S.-Pakistan Relations: What to Expect
It is likely that the killing of Osama bin Laden, which may trigger other developments within Pakistan and beyond, will allow Washington to set in place an exit strategy. The Obama administration will now have something to show to the American people after all those years and can proceed to work out a troop withdrawal timetable to end the war.
The real conflict is not between the United States and Pakistan, but within Pakistan itself,” Senator Kerry
While the exit strategy is seemingly the priority of the Obama administration, although its final formulation could be difficult to arrive at, the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations is about as clear as mud-laden waters. Notwithstanding the Pakistani failure to eliminate bin Laden, there are reasons to believe that the primary long-term interests of the United States remain with Pakistan’s security and stability. Some analysts point out that in an important way, the removal or attenuation of both issues—Afghanistan and al-Qaeda—will liberate the relationship from two major distractions.
Perhaps for the same reason, some wise heads on Washington’s Capitol Hill are urging calm. “Distancing ourselves from Pakistan would be unwise and extremely dangerous,” Senator Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at a 5 May hearing. “It would weaken our intelligence gathering; limit our ability to prevent conflict between India and Pakistan; further complicate military operations in Afghanistan; end cooperation on finding terrorists; and eliminate engagement with Islamabad on the security of its nuclear weapons.”
Mark Toner: “What were trying to do in Pakistan is to build democratic institutions, to improve Pakistans security, to help it face an existential threat from terrorism. And thats where our assistance is focused.
“The real conflict is not between the United States and Pakistan, but within Pakistan itself,” Senator Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the committee, said as he opened that hearing into the vexing issue. “The battle is over what sort of nation Pakistan will become.”
On 9 June, in a written response to U.S. lawmakers ahead of a U.S. Senate hearing for his confirmation as the next secretary of defense, CIA chief Leon Panetta said, “Continuing cooperation with Pakistan is critical to keep a tremendous amount of pressure on al-Qaeda’s leadership and the networks that provide it support and safe haven at a time when it is most vulnerable.”
On 7 June, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said cooperation with Pakistan is in America’s long-term security interest. “The United States’ anti-terror cooperation with Pakistan is in America’s long-term security interest and the cooperative efforts between the two countries have yielded results,” Toner stated at the agency’s daily briefing.
“What we’re trying to do in Pakistan is to build democratic institutions, to improve Pakistan’s security, to help it face an existential threat from terrorism. And that’s where our assistance is focused. A strong, stable, peaceful, and prosperous Pakistan is in the interest of the region,” he said in response to a question by an Indian journalist who questioned U.S. assistance for Islamabad.
There is no end to the worry among U.S. policymakers and analysts about how Pakistan will evolve in the coming years, particularly during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and in the post withdrawal days.
Vali Nasr, who left the State Department in April, after working for the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, wants to ensure that the alliance can survive in the future: “We’re behaving as if killing bin Laden was our last piece of business in Pakistan, and that’s a mistake.”
But it is also evident that there are many in the United States who would like to impose some form of “conditionality” on future U.S.-Pakistan relations. For instance, Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director with the International Crisis Group, said that U.S. certification requirements for the Pakistan partnership should ensure that Pakistan takes firm action against violent extremist groups. “We would advise and very strongly urge Congress to condition military assistance on demonstrable steps to combat violent extremists, that go beyond just al-Qaeda, the foreign al-Qaeda, but also homegrown jihadis,” Ahmed said.
James M. Dorsey, a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, in a 23 May article, “Pakistan Moves Closer to China as Obama Misses Opportunity to Stabilize U.S.-Pakistani Relations,” pointed out that “the Obama administration has, however, so far shied away from the one thing it could do to put U.S.-Pakistani relations on a different footing, reduce Pakistan’s perceived need to arm itself to the teeth, persuade it to look at its national interests through a larger prism than only the perceived threat from its arch-rival India, reduce the dominating influence of the military in Pakistani politics and break its links with terrorist groups it sees as proxies in its conflict with India.”