Since the Raymond Davis debacle and the most recent Osama bin Laden raid & kill, much has been written about the future of U.S. and Pakistan relations. Some see the road ahead as rosy, likely to be steered back on course. Some see it as doomed to fail, unlikely to ever be resuscitated. Below Bilal Baloch and Maria Hasan, both graduate students at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, weigh in on the current status quo:
The past decade has witnessed a strong alliance between the US and Pakistan. A malfunction of some proportion, however, has led to some calling for a complete overhaul of US-Pakistan relations. Indeed, the relationship has been stretched from all angles, leaving a quagmire so complex that an understanding, let alone a policy prescription, seems a task of gargantuan order. Nonetheless, a brush of pragmatism reveals that at the heart of the cries, lays one, over-riding question: how important is Pakistan to US interest in the region? The answer remains in the positive.
Since Osama bin Laden’s death, the proverbial finger has been pointed firmly at Pakistan: mostly with suspicion. To Pakistan’s ill-fortune, rogue elements within its government apparatus subversively attack from within, acting as a separate state. Theirs is a logic leading them to believe that a shelter to bin Laden would spruce up an arsenal to bargain with the US if Washington ever decided to clip their wings.
If this is indeed what unfolded, then someone in Pakistan must be made to suffer the consequences and undergo an intensive investigation at the very least. Yet, even if it were the case that an official hand was at play in the bin Laden saga, it is most likely that a small portion of, say, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency may be complicit rather than the entire agency itself. This begs the stark question: Can the intelligence community of a country have a command structure where some of its factions act without the guidance of its other parts? Absolutely. Lest we forget, Pakistan has oftentimes functioned as a praetorian state, where the three pillars of governance — the Army, ISI, and civilian government — have rarely acted in harmony. And the US has seldom shied away from playing off these tensions.
To date, the US has not made much noise about the prospect of the ISI sheltering some of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Several reasons are mooted for the intelligence establishment to pursue such a move, but the critical matter is that the US is well aware of the cover. In turn, the US has had Pakistan ramp up the pressure on any globally, and specifically American, targeted plots. This has been the pattern of the two nations’ relationship thus far. Though it may strike as absurd, balancing the unethical and paranoid wishes of the ISI with broader objectives to crack down on Al Qaeda has been billed as the most pragmatic approach available to the US in a country riddled with conflicting elements.
Stability in Pakistan is critical to US national interest in the region at large, both politically and geostrategically. Pakistan will soon become the fourth largest population in the world, with a youth of some 100 million, and a grave lack of jobs, factored into the existing mess of an energy crisis and rising food prices. At this time, it is critical that the perception of the US is not skewed in the eyes of a frustrated, disenfranchised populace. Long-term US national interest may lay in ensuring that rather than winning “hearts and minds,” Pakistan is turned into an ally through trade, development, and diplomacy. This would also serve to counter militant extremism too. And signs of cooperation are there.
Since September 11, 2001, Pakistan has proved a worthy supporting act. Some may suggest that Pakistan didn’t even have a choice in the matter, being faced with extinction or support for the so-called “War on Terror.” US assets have been ever-present in Pakistan, officially or otherwise, since the Afghan war against the Soviets: the very war that gave birth to bin Laden. The CIA has been conducting its drone program in Pakistan since 2004; and there has been an official policy of intelligence sharing between the two countries. Though Leon Panetta declares that the Pakistanis had “no idea about Operation Neptune Spear” itself, it would be implausible to think that the effect of capturing bin Laden has followed a causation devoid of any Pakistani assistance. After all, president Obama was quick to thank Pakistan for its help in the battle to capture bin Laden. And, most recently, allegations have surfaced that an agreement was struck in 2001, where Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, and afterwards, Pakistan would act to protest the incursion. In any case, over the past decade, it is safe to assert that Pakistan has more than produced the bang for the American buck.
Still, the unconventional politics in Pakistan strains the relationship with the US massively. At this time of delicate diplomacy, how can the US react?
Just as the 19th century European powers employed a balance of power system to avoid catastrophe, the US must ensure that it balances the various factions in Pakistan from turning against the Americans, or one another. Yes, investigations and checks must ensue after bin Laden’s capture, but a break up of ties will only be detrimental. Indeed, it is better to have these agencies onside, then not, and failure may lead Pakistan to implode: at least politically. But a carefully constructed, and executed, realpolitik approach may inspire the Pakistani civilian government to act in coalition with the other agencies, while ensuring that oversight at least begins to emerge over the rogue factions. And the signs have begun to surface, as Pakistan has agreed to allow the US to question the three wives of Osama bin Laden who were with him in the compound: a sure stamp of cooperation amid tensions following the raid. Another positive sign lay in the fact that the State Department has declared that it is growing in confidence about
broader information sharing between the two countries. Overall, the US must remain consistent in its support.
An alliance that is shrouded in mystery incites resentment, not trust, in the populations of both the US and Pakistan. It is essential that Americans are reassured that the Pakistani state is doing everything in its power to prevent international terrorism. Yet, if the real war indeed lies in Pakistan, it remains equally important for the US to strengthen its alliance with that country. Acknowledging that Pakistani cooperation has been imperfect, but sufficient, is the first step to stabilizing the current threat to the relationship.
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