Why engage with Pakistan?
The US still needs Islamabad’s help on Afghanistan. Pakistan needs US aid money and global connections to avert international isolation.
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Why then does the US continue to engage with Pakistan?Skip to next paragraph
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For a start, there is that matter of the NATO supply line, vital to its efforts for a successful outcome in Afghanistan. Despite shifting some of that route through the friendlier Central Asian states in recent years, the Pakistani route that runs from the port city of Karachi across the Western border at Torkham still accounts for almost half the multinational force's provisions.
Then there is the disputed US presence at Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's Balochistan Province, where the US launches its controversial drone program – key in the battle against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Though Pakistan officially ordered the US to vacate the bases following the NATO airstrike, the US denies having a presence there.
For Pakistan, US aid does not matter as much as the connections America brings with it – namely the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, upon whose loans Pakistan's economy is dependent – coupled with the overwhelming desire to avoid international isolation. Despite the hostile rhetoric, that desire trumps anti-American sentiments within the Pakistani Army, according to Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, a think tank.
"The people who matter in the military establishment know that losing America means losing 70 percent of the world," he says.
And then there are the two countries' mutual friends in the Muslim world: Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who would step up as go-betweens during any breach in ties between the US and Pakistan, says Mr. Zaidi, the analyst.
So what can we expect for the future of US-Pakistani ties?
Both countries share short-term objectives for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, which will allow the Obama administration to show serious progress in time for next year's elections, according to Ayesha Siddiqa, author of "Military Inc.," a book on Pakistan's military-industrial complex.
Indeed, NATO and Pakistani troops resumed some level of cooperation by working together to prevent another cross-border incident, The Associated Press reported in late November.
In the long run, however, Ms. Siddiqa sees "strategic divergence." She says, "Pakistan views Afghanistan and Central Asia – particularly Afghanistan – as its own backwater. It's a Pakistani version of the Monroe Doctrine," referring to a US policy from the 1820s that declared Latin America off limits to Europe.
That's an analogy the US doesn't share, says Siddiqa, who foresees a toned-down, bare-minimum relationship that emphasizes the security-related goals the two countries share, minus the pretense of a close friendship. "They'll drift apart. There will be greater crises, greater tensions, another problem will come along.
"None of this means Pakistan will cease to have ties with the US," she adds. "We'll remain engaged tactically, but reduce our dependence."
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