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.”
Beyond the Islamisation of Pakistan, which many think is a real threat””not only for Pakistan but for the region as a whole””some in Washington worry about Pakistan getting increasingly close to China.
Dorsey explains, “To achieve all of that, the Obama administration would have to strengthen its links with Pakistan’s political leadership instead of endorsing the dominance of the armed forces by favouring contacts with the military and leverage its 2008 nuclear assistance agreement to pressure India to moderate its policy toward the disputed region of Kashmir, which is claimed by both Pakistan and India.”
There is, however, 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. Beyond the Islamisation of Pakistan, which many think is a real threat—not only for Pakistan but for the region as a whole—some in Washington worry about Pakistan getting increasingly close to China.
Washington noted in April, before Osama bin Laden was killed, that the Pakistani government was advising President Hamid Karzai’s regime in Afghanistan to refuse the United States a permanent military presence in that country and to gravitate more toward Pakistan and China. According to the 27 April Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Gilani told Karzai that “the Americans had failed them both” and that Karzai should “forget about allowing a long-term U.S. military presence in his country.” The journal pointed out that “Pakistan’s bid to cut the U.S. out of Afghanistan’s future is the clearest sign to date that, as the nearly 10-year war’s endgame begins, tensions between Washington and Islamabad threaten to scuttle America’s prospects of ending the conflict on its own terms.”
How can Washington possibly deal with these problems vis-à-vis Pakistan? In a 6 June interview with Business Insider Politix, Pakistan expert Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, described what an effective U.S. strategy for dealing with Pakistan would involve:
“Let me begin by saying it’s not entirely clear what the strategy is in this post-bin Laden period. It’s clear that a number of steps have been taken; there has been an active effort at engagement at the senior-most levels. But precisely what that engagement is intended to accomplish is not clear. I believe that the Obama administration seeks to repair what was a relationship in crisis and to find a more stable footing for U.S.-Pakistan relations across the board. What I don’t know is what would have to be the foundations of that — whether Pakistan will have to make significant changes in order to make that possible, or whether the U.S. has accepted that cooperation is going to be frustrating and perhaps inadequate, but that frustration and inadequacy is perhaps better than no cooperation at all. I’m not clear what the overarching strategic ambition is for the relationship, but it is clear that there is the desire to at least avoid further deterioration and a greater crisis that would probably lead nowhere good, from either side’s perspective.”
Markey also advocates that the killing of bin Laden and the overall crisis in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship be seen as an opportunity to press the Pakistanis to take very clear and concerted actions against not just militant groups but also individuals and institutions within the Pakistani state—including within its intelligence apparatus—that are working against U.S. interests. Says Markey, “Through a concerted effort — which would include lobbying influential Pakistanis; threatening to cut off U.S. assistance, especially military assistance; working with other Pakistani allies, particularly China and Saudi Arabia; and pushing our military effort in Afghanistan — we could, I believe, create leverage in our relationship with Pakistan, especially at a time when their civilian leadership is weak.”