TWQ: Time for Sober Realism: Renegotiating Relations with Pakistan - Spring 2009
April 1, 2009
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States has sought to help Pakistan transform itself into a stable, prosperous, and democratic state that supports U.S. interests in the region, is capable of undermining Islamist militancy inside and outside its borders, commits to a secure Afghanistan, and actively works to mitigate prospects for further nuclear proliferation. Washington has also hoped that Pakistan, along with India, would continue to sustain the beleaguered peace process to minimize the odds of a future military crisis between them. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2008, the United States has spent more than $11.2 billion, presumably to further these goals. The FY 2009 budget request includes another $1.2 billion.
Despite this largesse, the United States has failed in large measure to achieve all but minimal progress toward most of these objectives. Pakistan is more insecure, not less, since the onset of U.S.-Pakistani reengagement in 2001. Pakistanis appear to be more distrustful of the United States than they are of al Qaeda. Indeed, about 80 percent of Pakistanis recently polled said that al Qaeda’s principle aim is standing up to the United States, and 57 percent support that goal. In that same survey, more than 52 percent blamed the United States for the violence wracking the country, compared to 15 percent who blamed various militant groups. Fewer than one in two Pakistanis believed that al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in Pakistan pose a serious problem, and wide swaths of Pakistanis embrace negotiating with the raft of militant groups savaging their country and oppose military action to eliminate them. Since joining forces with the United States, albeit reluctantly, Pakistan continues to lurch from one crisis to another, be it economic, political, or military.
Pakistan’s intentions and security perceptions, not the amount or modalities of U.S. aid, are the crux of Pakistan’s problem. Given these apparent, divergent perceptions and interests, how, if at all, can the United States cajole, persuade, or compel Pakistan to cease and desist from engaging in policies, such as supporting some forms of militancy, that are inimical to U.S. interests? Can the United States help Islamabad pursue policies that will secure Pakistan’s future as a successful, democratic state at peace with itself and with its neighbors, capable of providing for its citizenry? There are no elegant or even probable solutions for the myriad problems riddling Pakistan. Indeed, the path for the United States is very narrow but must be pursued, given the far more harrowing alternatives. This will require a significant change in policy from what has been pursued over the last seven years. This new course must focus more resources and attention to rebuilding and professionalizing Pakistan’s civilian institutions including the police and justice systems, the federal and provincial assemblies, and the political parties while undertaking efforts to encourage civilian control over the military and intelligence agencies. Pakistan, and its citizens, must be a partner for change not merely objects of policy if such an approach is to succeed in any measure. While hoping for the best, Washington must also prepare for the worst case scenario that Pakistan, despite reconfigured assistance and cooperation, remains unable or unwilling to act to secure its future and that of the region.