Posts Tagged ‘us pakistan relations’
STRATFOR’s George Friedman reads the tea leaves on the Afghanistan endgame and US-Pakistan relations:
In the end, the United States will leave Afghanistan (with the possible exception of some residual special operations forces). Pakistan will draw Afghanistan back into its sphere of influence. Pakistan will need American support against India (since China doese navy to protect Pakistan’s coast). The United States will need Pakistan to do the basic work of preventing an intercontinental al Qaeda from forming again. Reflecting on the past 10 years, Pakistan will see that as being in its national interest. The United States will use Pakistan to balance India while retaining close ties to India.
A play will be acted out like the New Zealand Haka, with both sides making terrible sounds and frightening gestures at each other. But now that the counter-insurgency concept is being discarded, from all indications, and a fresh military analysis is under way, the script is being rewritten and we can begin to see the end shaping up. The United States is furious at Pakistan for its willingness to protect American enemies. Pakistan is furious at the United States for conducting attacks on its sovereign territory. In the end it doesn’t matter. They need each other. In the affairs of nations, like and dislike are not meaningful categories, and bullying and treachery are not blocks to cooperation. The two countries need each other more than they need to punish each other. Great friendships among nations are built on less.
With the arrests of several CIA informants by the Pakistani government and reports that top generals are demanding that army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani distance himself from the United States, the temptation in Washington will be to lash out at Pakistan for betrayal and take various retaliatory steps. The US Congress House Appropriations Committee, for instance, has decided to withhold most of the billion dollars in aid Washington doles out to Islamabad.
As US officials such as Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen have said and The Asianist has argued before, this is a short-sighted approach. Like it or not, the US needs Pakistan, not just in Afghanistan, but for broader regional stability and security. As in all its relationships, Washington should be prepared to make short-term adjustments to ensure their long-term viability.
The wisest course would be to give Pakistan some room to breathe. Its military and intelligence services have come under harsh criticism in recent months for either being pawns of the United States or incompetent institutions. That seething discontent has built as the list of incidents has widened: the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis after he killed two Pakistanis, a US Navy Seals raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abottabad, and a sophisticated terrorist assault on a Pakistani naval base.
In other words, the Pakistani state, in its role as an ally (to whatever degree) of the United States against terrorism, now faces a serious threat from terrorists willing to topple a US stooge amid some of the fiercest anti-Americanism in both the military and among the population. The fate of Gen. Kayani, who is reportedly less anti-American than most of his other colleagues, hangs in the balance.
In such a state of crisis, the logical solution for Pakistan’s military would be to create the perception of distance from the United States to cool some heads and perhaps buy it some bargaining room with terrorist outfits in Pakistan that usually target the United States rather than the Pakistani state.
And that is exactly what it is doing. Its army leadership has offered to reduce its reliance on US military aid and training, set limits on US intelligence operations, and has now arrested CIA informants.
This is no doubt a hard pill to swallow for the United States. But Washington’s main interest right now is to see a return to a stable Pakistan with a military that has regained its footing to be a partner in the future. And the alternative: potential state fragmentation with a paralyzed military, chronic levels of anti-Americanism and sophisticated terrorists in a country with nuclear weapons, is a scary one even to contemplate.
Following the siege on Pakistan’s naval airbase in Karachi, the voices calling for isolating or punishing Pakistan are growing ever louder. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.
From what has been revealed thus far, it is probably true that the militants penetrated the high-security naval facility with insider information; and perhaps even assistance from ex-servicemen or serving military personnel. This pattern of jihadist activity supported by elements of the Pakistani state is deeply troubling and all too familiar, given the recent killing of Osama bin Laden by American forces less than two miles from a prestigious military academy and sixty miles from the capital. The incident is also worrying because it illustrates that jihadists seem increasingly bent on targeting crucial parts of the Pakistani state, which raises questions about the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
Despite all this, those calling for the United States to isolate Pakistan, cut off assistance, or strong-arm Pakistan into ‘neutralizing’ its nuclear arsenal (whatever that means), are wrong. Like it or not, history has shown us that sanctions and isolation towards Pakistan only exacerbate mistrust, increase anti-Americanism and deepen Islamabad’s insecurity and consequent reliance on jihadist groups.
Furthermore, as others have argued, the jihadist strategy in Pakistan is designed to create the perception that the country’s security forces are unable to protect an increasingly failed state, thereby prompting the United States to increase its own military footprint in the country and increase pressure on Islamabad. This would further fan the flames of anti-Americanism, fill the ranks of jihadist groups and commit Washington to yet another quagmire. The United States should not take the bait, even if some hotheads inadvertently are.
A more nuanced strategy for the US in Pakistan needs to begin with a firm grasp of Washington’s interests in Pakistan and South Asia more generally. Washington not only wants to avoid Pakistan serving as a base for terrorist groups to attack the US or an actor in further illicit WMD proliferation, but sees its future economic and political development and further cooperation with India as a crucial part of a stable South Asian region. Realizing these interests requires an approach that achieves balance in geographic focus, time horizon and dimension. If the elements of the strategy outlined below seem trite, that is because they are. Most reports on US-Pakistan relations (see for example here and here) contain roughly the same recommendations, and there is a risk that they oversimplify complex policy problems and complicated ground realities. They are nonetheless worth noting to ensure the right mindset moving forward.
Simply put, the strategy the US should pursue in Pakistan has three parts: contain extremism; construct a long-term relationship with Pakistan; and create the space for regional peace and development.
First, the US should help Pakistan contain extremism to ensure that it does not act as a breeding ground for terrorist attacks in the US, cause a collapse or severe disruption of the Pakistani state, undermine the security of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal, or stoke tensions and potential conflict with India. Given the divisions within the Pakistani state, divergent interests and deep distrust between the US and Pakistan, and the dominance of anti-Americanism in the country, this will likely be pursued through a range of alternatives, including military assistance, information-sharing, targeted drone strikes and and other covert or clandestine operations.
Second, the seeds must be sown for a broader long-term partnership between the US and Pakistan to promote trust and to further the interests of both countries. Potential avenues for cooperation should include new initiatives such as an agreement in US Congress to grant preferential market access to Pakistani textiles, increasing IMET program opportunities for Pakistani military officers, and reforming the way US assistance is disbursed and the programs it targets so that is is more transparent and effective.
Third, since the roots of jihadist extremism lie in Pakistan’s insecurities vis-a-vis other countries in its neighborhood (eg. the potential threat of a two front war with India and Afghanistan), any sustainable solution needs to have a strong regional component. That includes trying to foster peace between India and Pakistan, continuing to forge a strong partnership with India, and encouraging greater regional economic cooperation.
Perhaps most critically, even as it draws down from Afghanistan, Washington must ensure that the Afghan security forces are adequately equipped, and that political reform is sufficiently broad-based, in order to prevent civil war or the return of a Taliban-dominated state that could further destabilize Pakistan and lead to conflict between New Delhi and Islamabad. While policymakers are quick to point out that spending billions of dollars a month in Afghanistan is not sustainable for the United States, they should also remember that neglecting Afghanistan is not a sustainable solution either, since that approach in the 1980s turned the country into a breeding ground for terrorism and led to September 11. And while it is easy to be pessimistic about Afghanistan, there is growing evidence that pursuing negotiation may be a workable option, and that Afghans are feeling more positive about their country than they did in past.
In David Ignatius’ new work of fiction, Bloodmoney, the director general of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Mohammed Malik, muses about how Americans’ specialty is lying to themselves. The seething resentment toward Pakistan and the knee-jerk aversion to further resource commitments in the AfPak region in Washington may prevent the United States from pursuing a multi-dimensional, long-term strategy in Pakistan today. But US policymakers should not mislead themselves into thinking that anything short of such an approach will fix a fraught US-Pakistan relationship and lead to a more stable South Asia tomorrow.
With the U.S-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue just concluded earlier this month, all sorts of wonkish proposals for bilateral cooperation are in the air.
But the most colorful suggestion is that of potential US-China cooperation in Pakistan. A growing chorus of voices is arguing that, since both Washington and Beijing desire a stable, prosperous, moderate and terrorism-free Pakistan, now is the time for both powers to forge some sort of strategic convergence.
While that’s a cozy idea and certainly one plausible reality if certain dynamics profoundly shift, as of now it strikes me as nothing but a fantastic notion based on a fundamental misreading of US and Chinese interests and positions in Pakistan.
US interests in Pakistan revolve around ensuring that it does not serve as a base for al-Qaeda, a flashpoint for potential nuclear war or illicit trade, or a complicating factor in the US war in Afghanistan. Washington also views Islamabad through the lens of the broader South Asian region, within which it would like to see more economic prosperity and political freedom and moderation rather than extremism and war.
Chinese interests are more complicated. Yes, on the one hand, China also desires a stable Pakistan because it is concerned about Islamic terrorism in its own backyard in Xinjiang and views Islamabad as not only a key destination for Chinese infrastructure and military investment, but a key energy and trade link with the Middle East and Central Asia.
But, on the other hand, flowery rhetoric aside, the main anchor of the now 60-year old Sino-Pakistani relationship is the Indian threat, and China needs Pakistan to be a destabilizing force to check its Indian rival. That is why Beijing has lavished Islamabad with weapons to use against New Delhi and has steadily bolstered its nuclear program. Put simply, while Washington desires a stable Pakistan, Beijing is quite happy with a Pakistan that is stable enough to allow Chinese investment and domestic stability but unstable enough to check India.
China also has much less incentive to change the current status quo relative to the United States. Beijing enjoys high favorability ratings in Pakistan (84% in 2009, for instance), compared to Washington which has been a victim of virulent anti-Americanism (16% favorability ratings that same year). Many Pakistanis view China as an all-weather friend and harbinger of economic development, and see the US as an unreliable ally and threat to their security.
Beijing has not only won over the hearts and minds of Pakistanis, but exerts significant influence on the levers of power in Pakistan to achieve its own interests where necessary. In the past, China has been very effective in using its collaboration with the military and intelligence services to suppress militant groups that threaten Chinese workers in Pakistan or support Uighur separatists in China. As for regional security, China has been more than happy to rely on NATO forces to stabilize the Af-Pak region while not even contributing logistical support to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Given the the added complexities within Chinese interests in Pakistan and its relative success in realizing its foreign policy objectives there, what is Beijing’s incentive to suddenly abandon the status quo and cooperate with the embattled United States today? Such a policy shift may occur if conditions become so unstable that Beijing feels the need for more bilateral cooperation, or if it is convinced that its ascension to great power status means not only being accorded more representation and respect, but assuming greater global responsibilities as well.
So far, I see neither scenario materializing. Until they do, Sino-US cooperation in Pakistan will remain a idealistic notion infused with too much grand strategy and too little ground reality. Forgive the play on words, but talk abottabad idea.
Last week, ex-CIA officer and current Brookings Institution fellow Bruce Riedel paid a visit to the Fletcher school to deliver a talk on US-Pakistan relations and promote his latest book.
Most of his remarks was boilerplate. The history of US-Pakistani ties have been a soap opera shrouded in mystery and distrust; the relationship is currently in crisis with a great potential for disaster in the future; and global jihadist groups are becoming more radicalized and coordinated operationally.
His recommendations weren’t new and were a little idealistic. The United States should mitigate Pakistan’s insecurities by creating a “regional diplomatic environment” (whatever that means) that encourages rapprochement with India, particularly on Kashmir. Washington should support civilian leaders and the democratic process instead of resorting to generals, even if the generals have proven more effective at governing and US presidents are often motivated by short-term goals like getting elected rather than promoting freedom.
All this, of course, assumes a long-term U.S. presence – a shaky assumption at the very least given the fact that Washington has twice taken its eye off the Af-Pak ball (once in the 1980s and another after the Iraq War in 2003). It also assumes that Pakistan would believe in this sustainability and change its policies accordingly away from short-term, self-help policies after a legacy of distrust and in an environment of insecurity.
I asked Mr. Riedel what his thoughts were on the sustainability of the U.S. presence. On the American side, he seemed to believe that U.S. President Barack Obama had his heart in the right place because he had twice rejected his own vice-president’s idea of ‘counter-terrorism lite’ in favor of a more muscular option. Furthermore, although announcing the July 2011 deadline in late 2009 was in his view “a mistake”, the Obama administration had subsequently walked back on it by first suggesting a 2014 deadline and then backing away even from that recently.
He admitted, though, that getting Pakistan and other actors to believe that the U.S. was in the region to stay was another question altogether:
My suspicion is that Rawilpindi still doesn’t get it, and they won’t get it until they wake up on July or August 2011 and see that we are still there.
That is an important distinction, I told Mr. Riedel, since key players need to be convinced before their policies shift enough to transform the “regional diplomatic environment”. And it’s not like things will get any easier has we move further into 2011. Combat will be much more difficult for US troops in Afghanistan as the winter ends and fighting escalates. Furthermore, I said I worried that the Af-Pak issue would become caught up in the 2012 pre-election hysteria, and that rhetoric might obscure what U.S. policy might actually be thereafter.
“Oh, you can count on it,” Mr. Riedel responded wryly before flashing a wide smile.
Christine Fair has a decent article out quibbling with the claims of those opposed to U.S. drone airstrikes in Pakistan.
The data so often cited by counterinsurgency experts and drone opponents like David Kilcullen and Andrew M. Exum, Ms. Fair argues, is bogus and lacks independent verification since the only publicly available civilian casualty figures come from the Pakistani Taliban, who then feed it to the story-hungry Pakistani press.
No one has independently verified the Taliban’s reports — journalists cannot travel to FATA to confirm the deaths, and the CIA will not even acknowledge the drone program exists, much less discuss its results. But high-level Pakistani officials have conceded to me that very few civilians have been killed by drones and their innocence is often debatable. U.S. officials who are knowledgeable of the program report similar findings. In fact, since January 1 there has not been one confirmed civilian casualty from drone strikes in FATA.
She also claims that drone opponents conflate drone attacks in Pakistan (which are meticulously pre-planned, intelligence-led attacks) with air strikes in Afghanistan (where troops call for air support and sometimes get firepower much greater than they actually need), and confuse different kinds of air strikes within Afghanistan.
And while admitting that these drone strikes do have the potential to inflict collateral damage, Ms. Fair argues (quite rightly, in my view), that it is the least bad option compared to relying entirely on the Pakistanis, who have no police in FATA to arrest terrorists, and whose army, now in its 13th month of sustained combat, has done little to sap insurgent strength despite massive civilian displacement. Besides, the Pakistani government’s opposition to drones may just be an act of political theatre:
Pakistan’s government makes a big show of opposing the strikes, but it’s not much more than political theater. In fact, the United States secured permission to launch strikes from then President Pervez Musharraf in 2006 — Musharraf was adamant at the time that the strikes be confined to the FATA and they have been. Musharraf also warned U.S. President George W. Bush beforehand that Pakistani military and civilian officials alike would protest the strikes, out of domestic political necessity — it was nothing personal. Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Barack Obama have inherited this combination of operating agreements and kabuki politics.
All this may be right, but what matters more to drone opponents, as Andrew Exum rightly counters, is not what the CIA or the Pakistani government says behind closed doors, but what Pakistani civilians perceive, since they are most likely to be radicalized (or become “accidental guerillas”, in Kilcullen-speak).
In this regard, both Mr. Exum and Ms. Fair agree to a certain extent on the solution. Ms. Fair urges the Obama administration to quit denying the fact that it is conducting drone strikes and provide evidence about what they have produced thus far, and conduct a cost-benefit assessment of the policy. Mr. Exum calls for a policy aimed at convincing Pakistani civilians that the policy works, rather than Americans, as well as better data on what they think (though this, as Ms. Fair notes, is quite difficult). Ms. Fair concludes powerfully:
Until the U.S. government owns these attacks and presents information about their outcomes, at best unreliable and at worst fabricated civilian casualties figures will dominate the drone debate.