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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Its recognition that these will be long-term campaigns vital to the state indicates that there is a greater degree of congruence between US and Pakistani perceptions of the threat of terrorism than many Pakistanis had previously accepted.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Window of opportunity
This represents the “window of opportunity” that Obama administration officials refer to. But it does not mean that US and Pakistani priorities are fully aligned.
If we want to build a long-term partnership, we need to recognize both its potential and its limitations. Pakistan has a long history of manipulating its American ally by calculating the minimum necessary action to lower Washington’s anxiety. The Obama administration needs to be clear on the “price of admission” for a long-term partnership.
Mr. Obama’s speech suggested two “must haves”: action against the Afghan Taliban’s sanctuaries in Balochistan Province, and putting the extremists that operate in other parts of Pakistan, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, out of business. Neither can be accomplished in one go, but unless clear-eyed analysis indicates that Pakistan is truly moving ahead on both, the US will not have enough of a partnership to carry it through the Afghan mine fields. Americans have deluded themselves before; they must not do so again.
The importance of staying power
What does the US need to contribute to the partnership? The key is staying power. Pakistanis view the US as an unreliable partner that has used Pakistan when it was convenient and abandoned it when the moment passed. The 2011 exit ramp for US troops in Afghanistan risks reinforcing this perception.
To counteract it, we have already offered long-term aid. We need to bolster this with real support for Pakistan’s internal security –
capacity-building, funding, and recognition of the challenges Pakistan faces.
Finally, always provided we are on track toward our primary goals, we should find an opportunity to have the US-Pakistan relationship “countersigned” by the Congress, which the Pakistanis see as the “gold standard” in determining whether the US is serious.
This is the basis for a serious long-term partnership – but not an unlimited one.
Pakistan will still consider India its major threat, consuming the lion’s share of its defense resources. The US will also have major interests in its partnership with India, and will work with India’s growing power in the Indian Ocean and emerging role in East Asia.
But if Pakistan can stop providing space for terrorist organizations to operate, and the US has the grit to stay with this effort as long as it is genuinely moving ahead, we can work together in spite of goals that diverge in other respects. In the process, we will make an important down payment toward regional peace and stability.
Teresita C. Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is a retired US diplomat who served in Pakistan. She is working on a book about US-Pakistan negotiations.