US-Pakistan partnership: Make it work for both sides
US relations with Pakistan are key to success in Afghanistan. Here’s how to bolster them.
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Sustaining that partnership may be his most formidable challenge.
The Achilles’ heel of our past alliances with Pakistan has been both countries’ unwillingness to confront the discrepancies in their goals. This time, we need to be clear on where our goals do and don’t coincide, and what we are prepared to do about them.
Calculus after 9/11
When Pakistan signed up for the US-led campaign against terrorism in the anxious days following 9/11, the two partners, as in the past, had objectives that overlapped – but only in part. Pakistan, like the United States, saw Al Qaeda as a danger to the world. But its other objectives were not shared by the US.
As it had when it worked with the US during the cold war, Islamabad hoped to bolster its rivalry with India through US power. Pakistan wanted to enhance its influence, and eliminate India’s, in Afghanistan. These goals were more important for Pakistan than the US objective of ending the Taliban regime and putting extremist groups out of business.
The collapse of Afghanistan’s Taliban government late in 2001 highlighted the difference. For the US, it was the first big success of the war against terrorism; for Pakistan, it looked like a strategic disaster. Pakistan was losing an embarrassing but pliant ally, and Kabul would now be under a government billed as friendly to India.
By early 2007, the disconnect between the two countries’ objectives was obvious. The regrouped Taliban threatened both the NATO military forces and the Karzai government, and US officials publicly expressed concern about the support they enjoyed from Pakistan’s intelligence services.
Pakistan’s official policy favored strengthening and stabilizing the Afghan government. However, Pakistani decisionmakers, with uniformly low expectations of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attitude toward Pakistan and his government’s capacity, had strong motives for keeping their ties with the group they had helped install in Kabul in the mid-1990s.
First things first
Countries defend their own interests first, before worrying about those of their friends, so it is unrealistic to expect that Pakistan’s goals will be fully in sync with those of the US. But Islamabad’s record this past year is heartening.
It has deployed the Army against domestic Taliban insurgents both in the “settled areas” of Pakistan like the Swat Valley, and in the ungoverned tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border like South Waziristan.