The next U.S. administration will face numerous issues and challenges, and given the security dilemma posed by the militant threat in the FATA, Pakistan will undoubtedly be at the top of that agenda. Below, Niloufer Siddiqui, an M.A. candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, [where she is concentrating in South Asia Studies and International Economics] delves into how the new Obama/Biden administration should change U.S. policy towards Pakistan:
Of all the foreign policy issues that will engage the attention of Barack Obama and Joe Biden come January 20th – and there will be many – none is more critical than Pakistan. Government and security analysts agree that if another terrorist attack were to be planned against the U.S., it would almost certainly originate in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the border region with Afghanistan.
The seven years since the events of September 11th have seen increased U.S. engagement with Pakistan, and as the country moves forward into another attempted democratic endeavor, such engagement and support must continue.
However, the fundamentals of U.S. policy towards Pakistan must be reworked. There is no easy solution. U.S. policymakers face the difficulty of balancing long-term strategies, which would have a positive impact on underlying structural problems but which fail to sufficiently address immediate dangers, and its short-term policies, which result in increasing anti-American sentiment and are detrimental in the long term.
While some prioritizing of issues would no doubt be necessary, longer-term goals cannot be sacrificed for short-term gain. It is essential, rather, that Pakistan’s many problems be approached in an integrated and mutually reinforcing manner.
Obama’s team has already shown that it recognizes this core policy dilemma by framing the problem of extremism and militancy in regional terms. The events which unfolded in Mumbai last month have no doubt thrown their plans to resolve the long-standing Kashmir dispute into disarray. The U.S. must now adopt an even more sensitive approach towards India-Pakistan relations, but should continue to realize that the situation in the FATA cannot be viewed in isolation.
Successful bilateral relations are characterized by cooperation and communication which serves one’s own national interests while understanding the motivations underlying the other party’s actions. With this in mind, both the U.S. and Pakistan would both be served well if the Obama administration were to broadly pursue the following recommendations:
- Continue cooperation with Pakistan’s democratic government and strengthen democratic institutions.
The Bush administration’s relationship with Pakistan over the last eight years has been heavily criticized for being focused on Musharraf and the army. This served both to alienate the larger populace which had begun to increasingly view the former military leader with disdain and also prevented effective engagement with leading civilian figures. There is now an opportunity to rectify the imbalance between support for the military and civilian institutions.
A democratic Pakistan, seen as legitimate by its own people, is in the U.S.’s long-term interests. The U.S. must engage with more than just a handful of senior leaders. This includes taking key stakeholders on board and reaching out to elected Cabinet members and members of Parliament.
At the same time, the U.S. administration must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to strengthening democratic institutions. It should therefore apply quiet pressure on Zardari‘s government to move forward on repeal of Article 58 2(b), or at the very least, some reconfiguration of the powers of the President and Prime Minister. Simultaneously, it must engage with local civil society actors in providing technical assistance and earmarking funds to strengthening the Parliament and judiciary.
- Alter the scope of development assistance, with the goal of having it centered on socioeconomic reforms rather than military aid.
The U.S. should move forward with the innovative Biden-Lugar legislation (the “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2008”) introduced July 15, 2008. By promoting socio-economic development, the legislation begins to tackle some of the core causes of insurgency and militancy, including lack of employment opportunities and social welfare programs, and demonstrates the U.S.’s long-term commitment to Pakistan.
The U.S. should also continue to move forward on the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ) legislation, which would allow for duty-free access to U.S. markets for certain types of goods produced. The zones were chosen as part of a province-wide study to locate the most economically under-developed regions to provide employment opportunities to the people of that area. Such proposals suggest recognition of the link between economic underdevelopment and terrorism.
- Develop a long-term plan for the FATA, without which military excursions in the tribal areas are worthless.
The U.S. should stop its unilateral military strikes as soon as possible, with the realization that such actions fail to solve any short-run problems and merely exacerbate the long-term situation. The costs of intrusions by U.S. Special Forces and air strikes by U.S. drones far outweigh the benefits. The impact on both the central government, which has publicly denounced the air strikes and vowed to uphold Pakistan’s sovereignty at all costs, and the public has been detrimental. In the absence of reliable information, media reports merely fuel anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
The U.S. should encourage the recently formed Friends of Pakistan group to assist Pakistan in its efforts towards local development of the FATA. In line with this, the U.S. must develop a road map in consultation with the Pakistan central and provincial governments, and other international actors, for political and socio-economic reform in the FATA.
- Promote regional stability and address Pakistan’s security concerns.
In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the U.S. should quietly convince both India and Pakistan of the urgent need for increased cooperation on issues of joint security and counterterrorism efforts. While pressuring Pakistan to crackdown on terrorist groups, particularly if linkages to the Mumbai attack are proven, it must simultaneously stress to India the need for restraint in its rhetoric. The fragility of Pakistan’s domestic political situation must be taken into account when devising regional plans.
Pakistan’s security concerns on both its eastern and western borders determine its strategic culture and objectives. Addressing Pakistan’s insecurities vis-à-vis India are essential to enable it to focus its attention on its western border, and may also address the root cause of linkages between rogue elements of the ISI and military with terrorist outfits.
Progress on Kashmir is key in this regard. The next administration should follow up on its campaign promises of turning attention to this issue, and apply pressure on both sides to be innovative and creative in their own approach to resolving the long-lasting conflict. It must, however, recognize the limitations of its own role and its failed attempts at mediation in the past. Therefore, its policy would reap rich dividends if characterized by patience and even-handedness.
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