TWQ: Caught in the Muddle: America’s Pakistan Strategy - Winter 2011
January 1, 2011
President Obama has placed Pakistan at the center of his administration’s foreign policy agenda. Islamabad is a pivotal player in Afghanistan and its decisions will have much to do with whether and how U.S. forces can leave that country. Al Qaeda and linked militant groups have used Pakistan as a sanctuary and recruiting ground, with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas becoming, in President Obama’s words, ‘‘the most dangerous place in the world.’’ Recurrent tensions between India and Pakistan frustrate and complicate U.S. initiatives in the region, where nuclear proliferation, insurgency, terrorism, and grand strategic goals in Asia intersect.
Despite significant effort and expense, the strategy pursued by the Obama administration since the spring of 2009 has not delivered on its ambitious goals in Pakistan and the broader region. Pakistani security policy remains dominated by the military, the country’s economic performance and political stability are both troubling, and the broader region has become even less secure. The United States risks becoming caught in a set of interlocking dependencies that undermine its influence—tightly linked to a troubled Karzai regime in Kabul, painfully reliant on the Pakistani army for logistics and intelligence, and reactive to an Indian security elite which expects to influence U.S. policy without providing much in return. Although there have been valuable initiatives on a variety of issues, U.S. policy toward Pakistan remains locked in an uncomfortable limbo awaiting further movement on U.S. commitments to Afghanistan, India-Pakistan relations, and domestic Pakistani politics. Washington faces a set of dilemmas: how to manage long-term goals when short-term imperatives undermine them, and how to navigate conflicting international objectives in the region. There are no easy solutions to these problems, but stasis is not a strategy.