Why US and Pakistan must draw closer
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is too critical for Washington to abandon again as it moves to withdraw from Afghanistan. The tragic flooding in Pakistan gives the United States a rare opportunity to demonstrate goodwill and break the cynical cycle of its relationship with Islamabad.
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While we treat Pakistan as an unreliable client, Pakistan treats the US as a far-away, fair-weather friend. Pakistan and the United States currently find themselves embroiled in an on-again period of uncertain friendship, but neither side counts on the relationship to last.Skip to next paragraph
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Pakistan expects the United States to walk away again, while the US believes that Pakistan will continue to see itself as caught between two rising great powers, China and India, each with nuclear arsenals and aspirations to dominate Asia. China (which also sees India as a rival) is Pakistan’s northern neighbor and “all-weather” ally. India is Pakistan’s great resented rival and hegemon of the South Asian subcontinent.
The two countries were created by Britain’s partition of the subcontinent in 1947, when the colonial territory ruled under the British Raj was divided into a Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan (then including East Pakistan, which in 1971 would become independent as Bangladesh). Since Partition, Pakistan and India have fought four wars (1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999) and numerous skirmishes, and both have developed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
India has prevailed each time, because although Pakistan has an excellent military that is the world’s seventh-largest in terms of active duty troops, India’s military is the third-largest and has a military budget that is eight times bigger. It is as if the United States and Mexico had a long-standing dispute that occasionally erupted into open conflict.
Why Pakistan turns to Islamist militants
Thus, although Pakistan has spent an inordinately large share of its national budget to build a far larger military than it needs, that military has never been able to perform its primary task with regard to India successfully. So, in 1998, shortly after India conducted nuclear tests, Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, but while its 100 or so nuclear warheads may provide some deterrent capability against a lightning Indian attack, Pakistan can hardly use its nuclear arsenal as an offensive weapon.
That leaves the third leg of Pakistan’s strategic triad, Islamist militants run by the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Historically, Pakistan has achieved its foreign policy interests in neighboring countries more through the activities of the militants than by way of its conventional or nuclear forces.
Pakistan’s biggest national security concern, by far, is India, with which it has an existential struggle over the disputed Kashmir region. Since the American-led intervention in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, India has gained a foothold there as well. By aiding the Afghan government and building consulates around the country, New Delhi is not only undermining Pakistan’s hopes for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, but motivating even greater need for the militants.