A game changer for US-Pakistan relations
As officials from both countries meet for a high-level strategic dialogue this week, both Washington and Islamabad are frustrated. But a commitment to a long-term alliance is essential. And it can work, if both sides focus on three priorities.
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2) US actions on Pakistani soil. The US military needs to be smarter about its stealth operations in Pakistan. Killing bad guys may give the White House a sense of achievement and excitement, but every misfire sets relations with Pakistan’s people back years.
The underground culture that pervades Pakistan’s streets can disseminate inaccurate information about each botched attack faster than a Google search. No amount of American political fence-mending or money can compete with that. Drone attacks should be fewer and farther between. Coordination with Pakistani ground intelligence needs to be infused with a new commitment of trust so Drone operators don’t attack unless Pakistan’s Army command gives the green light. If it goes wrong then, everyone shares the blame.
Most of all, America needs to engage Pakistan’s people at the human level by allocating the bulk of its 5-year, $7.5 billion aid package to building lots of local health-care facilities, schools (particularly ones that educate girls), and nourishment centers. Microcredit finance, to which the US should contribute significant amounts, can become a centerpiece of US policy to rehabilitate Pakistan. Pakistanis are industrious and want to work – the world should help them do so.
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Peace talks with India
3) External relations. When Mr. Obama visits India in November, he must urge Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to rekindle peace talks with Pakistan. He should explain that while Pakistan may have given birth to and nurtured South Asia’s extremist groups, they are now everyone’s problem.
India must take the lead in managing the metastasis of South Asian extremism. Mr. Singh should invite Zardari to New Delhi for a summit. Trade is the easiest subject to tackle. Kashmir and nuclear arms are the most difficult. Kayani, who would be charged with implementing any peace accord concluded by Zardari, would get support from his Army hawks if the tangible benefits to Pakistan’s national security and economic revitalization outweigh lingering perceptions of threats from New Delhi.
Singh should also assure Obama that India has no nefarious designs against Pakistan by assisting in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation. Fears of this East-West squeeze have driven hawkish sentiment inside Pakistan’s Army command structure since 2001; these must be alleviated if Kayani is to succeed in co-opting his hawks.
Pakistan can also play a constructive role in calming unrest in Muslim Kashmir, where separatists were once bankrolled by Pakistan’s intelligence services. Instructing their former proteges to engage in peace dialogue with New Delhi would reap great dividends for Pakistan in the larger regional peace equation.
The Obama administration’s bet on a good outcome in Afghanistan has no meaning if America loses substance in its relationship with Pakistan. The problems that beset this nuclear-armed nation are overwhelming on any scale. But that’s no reason to replace smart policymaking with fear and cynicism. It takes a president with skill, strategic vision, and some guts to eradicate the cancer without killing the patient. It is time for Obama to demonstrate just how good a surgeon he is.
Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, is a venture capitalist who jointly authored the blueprint for a cease-fire of hostilities between Indian security forces and militant Islamists in Kashmir in July and August 2000.