Rethinking the Pakistan Plan

Rethinking the Pakistan Plan

Mini Teaser: U.S.-Pakistani relations are in crisis. Strategic fear of India prevents Pakistan from bending to U.S. demands. Easing India-Pakistan tensions could change the dynamics of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance.

by Author(s): Amitai Etzioni

THE QUEST for improvement in the deeply troubled relationship between the United States (along with its Western allies) and Pakistan focuses largely on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and on the country’s approach to governing. But this quest has not yielded much, and relations between Washington and Islamabad are spiraling downward. Lost in this American struggle to induce change in Pakistani behavior is a fundamental reality—namely, that there probably can’t be any significant progress in improving the relationship so long as the India-Pakistan conflict persists. For Pakistanis, that conflict poses an ominous existential challenge that inevitably drives their behavior on all things, including their approach to the West and the war in Afghanistan. But if the India-Pakistan confrontation could be settled, chances for progress on other fronts would be greatly enhanced.

That in turn raises questions about U.S. policy toward India. For years, that policy has been guided by the geopolitical thesis that the West needs to court India in order to counterbalance China’s growing power in Asia. Hence the United States has resisted the idea of pressuring India for concessions toward Pakistan in the ongoing conflict of nerves between the two countries. So long as that policy continues, prospects are high for ongoing tensions between the United States and Pakistan, which has ominous implications for America’s efforts in Afghanistan.

All this suggests that America may be pursuing an indirect strategy in its relationship with Pakistan. Instead of seeking to change Pakistan’s approach to the Afghan war and its own government, America should begin with the India-Pakistan relationship and reassess its view of India as a necessary counterweight to China. In short, what we need most is to consider the immediate issues concerning Pakistan and Afghanistan in the context of a much wider geopolitical reassessment.

IT IS widely agreed that the greatest threat to the security of the United States and its allies is the combination of terrorism and nuclear arms. The most likely place for terrorists to acquire such a weapon is Pakistan. Although Pakistan has adopted various measures to improve the security of its weapons, the West is concerned. Pakistan, suspicious of Washington, has rejected America’s offers to help further secure these arms, and Western powers realize they don’t know the locations of all of them. The 2011 attacks on a highly secure naval base in Karachi—which benefited from al-Qaeda penetration of the Pakistani army—raise concerns that similar attacks on facilities storing nuclear arms might succeed. Michele Bachmann, drawing on her membership in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, stated that: “We have to recognize that fifteen of the sites, nuclear sites are available or are potentially penetrable by jihadists. Six attempts have already been made on nuclear sites.”

Pakistan expanded its nuclear arsenal from sixty warheads in 2007 to more than one hundred in early 2011 and accelerated construction at the Khushab nuclear site, which will provide it with a fourth nuclear reactor as early as 2013.

Even if terrorists couldn’t capture nuclear arms or acquire them from supporters within the Pakistani forces, insurgents could topple the government. This raises Western concerns—accentuated by the fact that the government is weak and unstable and that anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is widespread and intense.

A “stable dysfunctional relationship” is one in which the parties damage each other but maintain the relationship because they also nurture each other. This certainly defines the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Former defense secretary Robert Gates famously referred to it as akin to a “troubled marriage” and used the parlance of marriage counselors in urging the parties to “keep working” at it. The admonition took on added force in November 2011 after the killing of twenty-four Pakistani soldiers by NATO forces sparked a fresh crisis in the relationship. Pakistan quickly shut down supply routes through the country that NATO forces had used to replenish their war efforts in Afghanistan.

On the one hand, the Pakistani military is helping the United States fight the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. It has allowed U.S. incursions into Pakistan and provided some of the intelligence on which drone strikes are sometimes based. On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban can hide, rest, regroup, rearm, train and organize in Pakistan, especially in North Waziristan. This greatly hinders the drive to end the insurgency in Afghanistan. Pakistan has publicly criticized the United States for violating Pakistani sovereignty, further inflaming anti-American sentiment in the country.

In the spring of 2011, Pakistan demanded that Washington remove most of its military trainers and reduce the number of CIA and Special Operations operatives in the country, but it also asked for more joint operations with the United States against the Taliban and more information sharing. While the Pakistani military often collaborates with the U.S. military, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) reportedly often lends a hand to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

Image: Pullquote: Suggestions for the West to pressure Pakistan in various ways to change its behavior ignore the reality that the West needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the West.Essay Types: Essay