Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How to Get More Out of Pakistan

This is a topic we touched on in our Afghanistan conversation, but one that we never really explored in much detail. There, we pointed out that Pakistan needs to contribute much more on some essential international security tasks to give Afghanistan a viable chance to stabilize and allow for U.S. forces to make a safe exit from the area. But we didn't get into the specific mechanics of how to get more effort and production out of Pakistan. Let's do that here.

To begin, Pakistan, like most countries, operates strictly on the basis of its self-interests. It's only targeting and pursuing anti-state terror groups like the Pakistani Taliban that threaten and attack government posts and officials and military installations and troops. Meantime, the country embraces a number of other terror groups that it's developed and nurtured over the years. Just consider the relationship between parts of the Pakistani military industrial complex and groups like the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Haraka-ul-Mujahadeen. Why support these groups? Pakistan is worried about a possible unfriendly government in Kabul and obsessed about the rise of Indian influence in Afghanistan. And these groups are consistently willing and able to do Pakistan's, usually the military's, bidding against various threats and dangers.

After years of evidence, it's clear that Washington can't simply ask, if not plead, Pakistan to provide more help on matters related to international security. And unfortunately, withholding aid probably won't do the trick.

As I highlighted in my last blog post, a major problem is that America lacks sufficient leverage in its relationship with Pakistan. It's dependent on Pakistan. The U.S. needs Pakistan to clamp down on terrorist sanctuaries on its soil and to capture, if not eliminate, Pakistani terrorists when possible. Washington needs Islamabad to exercise much better control over the Pakistani military, extinguishing the cozy link between the armed forces and militant groups. Additionally, Team Obama needs the cooperation of Pakistan to allow the transport of American war resources into Afghanistan.

What this means is that the U.S. has a tough time moving Pakistan in a desirable direction, and it certainly can't do it by itself.

Nevertheless, Team Obama isn't in a completely helpless situation. The U.S. can influence Pakistan's behavior via two interconnected approaches. It must focus on the main sources of Pakistan's insecurity (Afghanistan and India) that trigger its untoward and unproductive actions. Which means, in turn, that the U.S. should look to third parties (again, Afghanistan and India) as a method of reorienting Pakistan's priorities on Afghanistan. This indirect approach offers better hope for success than directly pressuring Pakistan into changing its ways.

1. The U.S. ought to place more pressure on the Afghan government to reassure Pakistan that it that is not a security threat and does not seek to squeeze Pakistan out of the country. In short, for obvious reasons, Pakistani officials don't want a hostile country on its doorstep. And there are reports that Pakistani officials suspect several of Karzai's close associates of harboring deep anti-Pakistani views and working behind the scenes to put these thoughts into actual policy. This has helped to plant the seeds of distrust in Islamabad and caused Pakistan to view Kabul very warily.

Just as troublesome, there has been a recent spate of cross-border attacks, causing accusations to fly in Islamabad and Kabul. Pakistan claims it's simply been trying to hunt down terrorists and an occasional, though accidental, round of fire has been launched into Afghanistan. In a startling reversal of what Kabul and Washington has complained about for years, Pakistan now claims that Afghanistan is not doing enough to control the out-flow of terrorists across its borders. Kabul, not surprisingly, protests this assertion and argues that Pakistan's attacks are provocative, power plays meant to demonstrate Pakistan's military superiority over Afghanistan. Moreover, making matters worse, Pakistan's border attacks has resulted in the death or displacement of hundreds of seemingly innocent Afghan civilians, which has only inflamed public sentiment against Pakistan. Indeed, on July 11, public outrage surfaced in a 500-strong demonstration in Jalalabad, in which Afghans chanted and held signs with anti-Pakistani slogans.

It is into this situation that the U.S. should step up its involvement, preferably with an eye toward smoothing relations between both sides. In particular, Team Obama ought to pay special attention to reducing distrust and building confidence not only between the governments and militaries but also between the Pakistani and Afghan peoples. Toward these ends, it is imperative that Washington get both Pakistan and Afghanistan to work together more often and more deeply on terrorism. These efforts should include, among many other things, high level meetings involving an array of state bureaucratic agencies, intelligence sharing, as well as the promise to confine and then go after terrorists on each side of their own border, perhaps through a joint declaration. It would also be worthwhile to explore the idea of pushing Kabul to sideline/demote the figures that Pakistan is most concerned about. Additionally, Team Obama should pressure Afghanistan to think of ways it can credibly signal to Pakistan that it values its relationship over the long-term.

India and Pakistan have had a long and tempestuous relationship. They've been rivals and occasional enemies for decades, constantly competing for influence in the region, even fighting three bloody wars. And Kashmir, with both Pakistan and India vigorously contesting its status, is another sore spot that lingers to today. Clearly, this has been a complex, difficult relationship, which is important to point out because we need to understand how tricky is it for India and Pakistan to work together on meaningful, substantive issues.

In the specific case of Afghanistan, it might be even more difficult than usual to get India to cooperate with the U.S. on Afghanistan. In the scenario I'm describing here, the U.S. would be asking India to make the first move in making concessions on its position on Afghanistan. Why, Indian officials would likely think, should we pro-actively accommodate Pakistan when that country is the is the source of much of the current problems in Afghanistan? Shouldn't Pakistan step up to the table on its own, without prodding and inducements?

In a perfect world, yes, this would happen. Alas, it's not. Yet there is still hope.

The U.S. ought to start with the premise that India and Pakistan should delink issues related to Afghanistan from other, more deeply rooted concerns in their relationship. This might make India more willing to be a useful partner. Washington ought to remind India that it's in New Delhi's interest to assist in weening Pakistan off terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan. After all, India has had its interests in Afghanistan attacked by anti-Indian terror groups supported by Pakistan. India should be pushed to recognize publicly that both Pakistan and India have legitimate interests in Afghanistan; and that sometimes these interests will compete against each other, though neither side looks to crowd or force the presence of the other out of the country. Finally, the U.S. should try to get India to downplay any expansionist ambitions, either in the region or worldwide.

The two approaches just described won't provide quick benefits, since it will take time to get Afghanistan and India to move first and then Pakistan to respond in a positive manner. Nevertheless, they are worth pursuing. If done right, Pakistan should feel far less political and security pressure to support terrorists and other troublemakers who operate Afghanistan. Which, in turn, will turn Pakistan into part of the solution there rather than the major problem. Moreover, the two approaches might help Pakistan internally. For instance, they could soothe civil-military relations, which would then pave the way for greater internal political stability. And if others move first and offer some concessions, Pakistani leaders might have just enough of a face saving mechanism to reciprocate in kind to India and Afghanistan.

Now, some of the above is already happening. For example, this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's traveled to India to discuss, among other topics, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is good, on two different counts. One, it signifies that the U.S. understands the predicament its in. And two, the talks are a high level, which means Washington is giving this set of issues the seriousness that they require. But we need to see substantive progress on the ground. The U.S. should place the above two approaches, in some form, high on its list of priorities. There's too much at stake not to try all sensible means of getting Pakistan on board with stabilizing Afghanistan.

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