What America needs to do

US should make clear it can & will act independently unless Pakistan demonstrates control of its sovereign territory.

Ali Ezzatyar/shahpur Kabraji October 13, 2011

When its highest ranking military officer declares a major ally to be the potential sponsor of multiple terrorist attacks, including a 20-hour-long assault on a US embassy, the US has a problem. When it turns out that the same ally has also enlisted its military and intelligence to ambush and kill American servicemen, as Pakistan did in 2007, the US has a crisis. American policy towards Pakistan undoubtedly walks a tight rope, but it also needs an urgent rethink. A transformation in US policy towards Pakistan must begin immediately, from recalibrating its military aid, to premising that aid on Pakistan’s position, vis-a-vis India.

For too long, Pakistan has advanced the excuse that since it is deeply involved in helping the US fight terrorism, the US should have patience and appreciation for its multiple challenges. This has allowed Pakistan to get a pass when certain elements within the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) have provided material aid to elements like the so-called Haqqani network, whose stated aim is the destruction of US forces in the region. The excuse also allows Pakistan to remain complacent with respect to reforming its relationship with India, who it incorrectly views as its main enemy. As a result, Pakistan’s resources (among which US aid dollars count aplenty) are mismanaged and military intelligence failures of the highest order abound. As the Kabul embassy attack demonstrates, the US can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s sloppiness.

While it may not be an immediate solution, the US must begin by changing the nature of military aid to Pakistan. The current system of reimbursing Pakistan for military assistance it provides does not work; an immense amount of money is spent on conventional hardware with an eye on India, that is largely useless in a war against small groups of terrorists. Rather than having this opaque mercenary arrangement, the US and Pakistan must openly demonstrate to citizens in both countries that US aid is being provided to combat terrorism and not for the purchase of redundant hardware, or even worse, siphoned into offshore bank accounts. After yet another alleged show of support for terrorism by elements of the Pakistan Government, the US is understandably sceptical of the Pakistani government, asking for resources and intelligence to deal with terrorists; the US administration is fearful that any intelligence provided will only allow the targets to move on before any operation can be executed. But the deal on the table should be simple: Pakistan must deal with specific threats as identified by the US. A failure to deal with such threats should result in reduction in aid. If the target is sufficiently high value, the US should make clear that it can and will act independently unless Pakistan demonstrates immediate willingness and control of its sovereign territory.

The mismanagement and miscommunication is partially the result of the US doing a poor job of articulating its vision in a way that facilitates Pakistani cooperation. While it is no excuse, recent revelations that Pakistani military officers were involved in attacks aimed at killing American soldiers are thought to be retaliation for US indifference to Pakistani casualties along the Afghan border. To convince a sceptical Pakistani government (and people) that they should be committing more to the fight, the US itself has to make its commitment to the region unequivocal. Washington should make clear to Islamabad and Kabul that, unlike previously, the US sees Pakistan and stability there, as crucial to furthering US regional interests. Part of this must be more pressure, premised on aid and diplomatic recognition, for Pakistan to redirect its military and political efforts (both internally and externally) away from outdated distractions such as confronting India.

Finally, the US must understand that its own reputation in the region is increasingly that of an incompetent dilettante. To show real commitment to the cause of stability in Pakistan means understanding some of the emotional issues that agitate young Pakistanis and using soft power to address these as well. It should reduce its dealings with the army such that it diminishes the role of the army as one of the fundamental components of the nation’s power structure to the benefit of democratic institutions.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2011.


Cynical | 10 years ago | Reply

Very perceptive analysis.Keep up the good work.

Arjun | 10 years ago | Reply

What do Pakistan and Egypt have in common? They're both countries based around denial.

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