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

Beijing may well prefer such a course over continuing to increase its military investment. After all, it worries about the large segments of its population now demanding the kind of affluence enjoyed only by a minority, to say nothing of other domestic tensions and major environmental challenges. Additionally, one should note that China does not have an expansionist ideology and has shown no desire to run the world or replace the United States as a global hegemon, although it is keen to play a much greater role in its region and to secure the flow of commodities and energy on which its economic well-being depends.

Taking all these factors into account, there seems to be ample time to first try what Henry Kissinger calls “co-evolution” and others have referred to as a China-U.S. partnership. Indeed, defining China as an enemy and moving to balance it could become a factor in making it into the kind of adversary it might not otherwise become.

Moreover, it is far from obvious what is meant by “balancing” in a twenty-first-century context—and whether India is well suited as a balancing power, even if there were a need and a way to balance Beijing. Economically, India and China have much to gain from increased trade and cooperation and from devoting their resources to economic development rather than to accelerated military buildup. Politically, India is rather ambivalent about the United States. Above all, Washington’s tilting toward New Delhi, especially the nuclear deal, is generating some rather negative side effects from a balancing viewpoint: It is driving Pakistan to a closer alliance with China, including a military one. And, worst of all, it is a major reason Pakistan is accelerating its buildup of nuclear arms. This fact alone justifies the suggested geopolitical reassessment.

MUCH ATTENTION has been paid to threats posed to major interests of the West by conditions and developments in Pakistan and its role in Afghanistan. Numerous attempts have been made over the last decade to convince Islamabad to close the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, cease supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan, better fight its own insurgency and better secure its nuclear arms. These efforts have not been particularly successful. 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. And there is little realism in suggestions that the West can restructure Pakistan, build up its civil society and scale back its military.

The most promising route seems to be the one that appears the most difficult—helping settle the India-Pakistan conflict. Such a settlement would free Pakistan to focus its forces on the insurgency, reduce its sense that it must control the course of events in Afghanistan, possibly scale back its military nuclear program and better secure its nuclear arms. It would also reduce the importance of the military. Detailed and rather widely shared ideas have been put forth on how this conflict might be settled, and various tension-reduction moves and negotiations between the two nations have already taken place. That indicates this road can be navigated.

For the West to influence the conflict settlement, it will need to show Pakistan that the United States and its allies are no longer tilting toward India. Doing so will require a geopolitical reassessment, one which acknowledges that China is best treated as a regional power (although not a regional hegemon) with few, if any, global ambitions and a power with which the West can deal on many international matters. This reassessment, moreover, would recognize that balancing is a concept that applies poorly to the twenty-first-century age of weapons of mass destruction, cyberwarfare, long-range missiles, unconventional forces and terrorism. Thus there is no reason to try to cast India in the role of a China balancer.

In short, both the links between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Pakistan’s internal dynamics are affected by the India-Pakistan entanglement. This entanglement, in turn, is affected by the India-China-West relationship. Although at first it may seem far-fetched to argue that a promising way to break the persistent morass in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to reexamine Western assumptions about China’s course, this avenue might well be worth exploring in its own right and for the sake of all the parties involved.

Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international affairs at The George Washington University. He is the author of Security First (Yale University Press, 2007). He is indebted to Julia Milton and Marissa Cramer for research assistance on this article.

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