The Skeptics

The End of the Road?

It comes as no surprise that U.S. President Barack Obama decided recently to cut $800 million—out of more than $2 billion—from annual aid and reimbursements to Pakistan’s military. The U.S.-Pakistani partnership has been disintegrating for some time. Let us count the ways:

- The fallout from the Osama bin Laden raid;

- The diplomatic imbroglio over Raymond Davis;

- The network of foreign spies traipsing around Pakistan;

- America’s Joint Chiefs publicly implicating the ISI in the death of a Pakistani journalist;

- Pakistan’s cancellation of visas for U.S. military trainers;

- Pakistan’s collusion with guerillas killing U.S. and NATO troops.

Hopefully, U.S. policy makers are accepting the reality that it is not within their power to alter Pakistan’s strategic interests. As I’ve said before, no amount of pressure or persuasion will affect Pakistan’s decision to tackle some extremists and not others, because its priorities are tied directly to continuing that geostrategic imperative. Only now does it appear that the White House is taking an initiative to deal with this discrepancy. Let us wait and see where it leads.

Compared to previous spats, however, this most recent one seems mild. The biggest blow to the partnership came in 1990, when the United States slapped Pakistan with sanctions for its covert nuclear program. Such action was mandated by the Pressler Amendment of 1985, which forbade assistance to countries pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

It is unclear when the current row will be resolved or whether it even can be, but it is well past time for Washington to reframe its partnership with Islamabad. No doubt that in the past, elements associated with Pakistan’s military and intelligence service have warned militants in advance about impending U.S. raids; that being said, Pakistan has been helpful in capturing high-level figures, including Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. The United States can and should limit the partnership to capturing and killing terrorists. While imperfect, that narrower approach is far more feasible than believing we can gain Pakistan’s support (in perpetuity) for an India-friendly government in Kabul, particularly when the vast majority of Pakistanis believe—and quite rightly so—that their country is fighting “America’s war.”

On that last note, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said, “Blame games, rigidity, arrogance, insensitivity to each other’s national interests is certainly very counterproductive.” He continued: “It definitely saddens me to see the deteriorating Pakistan-United States relations.” [Watch John Stewart’s recent interview with Musharraf beginning at the 9:00 minute mark (ht: Preble).] Those comments were a bit quaint coming from Musharraf; the policies he adopted during his tenure helped contribute to the rupture we see today. Nevertheless, he is right in the sense that Pakistani policies emerge from its particular historical, cultural, and geopolitical context. For America to believe it can try and alter those policies is partly why our own policies have for years proven so incoherent and ineffectual.

The United States has long ignored these core realities. A prime example of the absurdity that currently pervades conventional thinking in Washington is this comment at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee from Adm. James Winnefeld, tapped as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Pakistan is a very, very difficult partner and we all know that. We don’t always share the same world view or the same opinions or the same national interests.” Winnefeld continues: “I think we need to keep continued pressure on Pakistan, using all elements of pressure that we’re able to apply to get them to realize that the Haqqani network poses a threat to their own country, and to take the steps that we’ve asked them to take.”

I understand this sentiment, but it hasn’t worked before and likely never will. The Americans and Pakistanis disagree about the most fundamental issues, even over enemies and allies. And yet, here we have a high-level military official acknowledging that reality and in the same breath suggesting we need to continue pressuring them. I always thought that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?