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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Can’t twist Pakistan’s arm
Pakistan cannot be cajoled, induced, or even threatened into changing its behavior, and the US cannot prevail in Afghanistan without a change in Pakistan’s behavior. Pakistan must change because it wants to do so, which will require both deep internal reforms of its institutions and regional diplomatic initiatives to lower the temperature in the neighborhood.Skip to next paragraph
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The US must take two linked and challenging steps.
First, it must program a significant portion of its aid to Pakistan for non-security assistance that produces changes to its economic and political structures, so that long-overdue institutional reforms can be fostered.
The seamy underside of our transactional relationship is that most of America’s aid to Pakistan has gone historically to its military, thus preventing badly needed reform. That must change if the cycle of mutual duplicity is to be broken.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made some progress on this front in July, when she announced $500 million in funds for hospitals and hydroelectric generation, part of a larger sum of $7.5 billion in US aid for development projects in Pakistan.
“It’s our goal to slowly but surely demonstrate that the US is concerned about Pakistan for the long term, and that the partnership goes far beyond security against our common enemies,” Secretary Clinton said.
But she faces an uphill battle. A Pew survey this summer showed that 6 in 10 Pakistanis regard the US as a “nemesis.”
The best thing we have done in Pakistan in recent memory was the post-earthquake relief effort in 2005, which prompted enduring positive feelings toward the US in the remote northern villages of Pakistan where US military helicopters dropped from the sky to provide life-giving supplies and ferry the injured to US military doctors.
Now Pakistan is awash in historic and devastating floods, and the US response to this tragedy – $76 million in aid so far – could provide another opportunity to build goodwill. “The people of Pakistan will see that when the crisis hits, it’s not the Chinese, it’s not the Iranians, it’s not other countries,” said US special envoy Richard Holbrooke. “It’s not the EU, it’s the US.”
Yet the US should spend ten times that amount, and immediately offer to redeploy troops from Afghanistan to help in Pakistan. US government relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina eventually topped $100 billion, and the first supplemental appopriation just after the hurricane was for $10.5 billion, so pushing our spending on Pakistan up to $7.6 billion is viable.
Second, the Kashmir dispute that is at the root of the historical animosity with India must be resolved. The US must provide leadership to bring about that resolution, despite Indian desires to have Washington sit on the sidelines. This step will be very difficult, as India has already rebuffed efforts by the Obama administration to do exactly that.
Both steps must occur in tandem, so that each side can make important, but painful, changes to longstanding institutions and positions. Above all else, the US must not abandon Pakistan again.
Larry P. Goodson is the author of “Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban” and a forthcoming book about Pakistan.