U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Keeping Friends Close, Enemies Closer


As my PolicyMic colleague Laura Hughes points out in her article, Pakistan's stability is of grave concern for U.S. policy-makers. Growing evidence indicates that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and the Pakistani government are, at best, inept in their ability to control, deter, or eliminate militant activity within and originating from their own country; at worst, they are complicit in a collusive enterprise between the government and terrorist organizations. Regardless, it is crucial that the U.S. continue to provide financial assistance to the Pakistani government. Furthermore, the U.S. must also maintain a strong diplomatic and covert presence in Pakistan, operating independently of the ISI, in order to ensure the security interests of itself and its allies.

There have been calls for the U.S. to cease providing Pakistan with financial assistance, arguing that these funds have been used by the ISI to bankroll anti-Western forces carrying out attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. As understandable as this knee-jerk reaction might be, it does nothing to enhance the security of the U.S. or Pakistan, or even Afghanistan and India. Although U.S. dollars have contributed to corruption within Pakistan, withdrawing would only make the situation worse. U.S. aid must continue in order to keep nuclear facilities safe, secure shipping routes for U.S. and NATO forces, and give the Pakistani government stability.

Pakistan's misuse of funds isn't an anti-Western conspiracy. Despite decades of assistance from the U.S. — often in the form of unrestricted military funding — the country has failed to amass military strength comparable to India. As a result, Pakistan sought strength through proxies, such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network, as a deterrent against India. Making deals with the devil, however, has its price. In 2010 alone, some 1,200 Pakistanis died at the hands of suicide bombers, and 3,000 military officers have died in the past decade.

Pakistan is not like the presumed threat of pre-2003 Iraq, when we falsely believed Saddam Hussein had sought and acquired enriched uranium and aluminum tubes for centrifuges. Nor is it similar to Iran, which has pursued uranium enrichment and defied the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or even North Korea — a country that acquired the means to produce and test nuclear weapons, but has yet to develop a successful delivery system or a weapon that yields more than 2 kilotons. It is an entirely different animal altogether. Pakistan is in possession of more than 100 nuclear warheads and capable of producing more in order to maintain parity with India. Based on nuclear tests conducted in 1998, these weapons are capable yielding 36 kilotons. Although Pakistan boasts that they have instituted advanced security measures, the legacy of A.Q. Khan network casts considerable doubts on these assertions.

Unilateral covert actions within Pakistan creates considerable stress on U.S.-Pakistan military relations, which manifested itself  on Tuesday as two NATO helicopters were attacked by Pakistani troops after crossing into the country's airspace. This incident is obviously a reaction to the May 2 raid, which exposed the vulnerability of Pakistani security and made the entire military and ISI look weak. Moving forward, the U.S. will have to communicate enough with Pakistani forces to massage their sense of autonomy, while only disclosing the least amount of information to ensure that American operations aren't compromised.

With all of this in mind, remaining engaged with Pakistan will be grueling. Rhetoric and idealism aside, U.S. interests are best served by a secure and stable Pakistan. Undoubtedly, legislators and pundits in the U.S. will continue to argue against continued funding, which pales in comparison to the amount spent in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather than search for ways to punish Pakistan, we should instead find ways to increase civilian control of the government and military, encourage democracy, and involve Pakistan in nuclear diplomacy. As the U.S. looks to withdraw from Afghanistan, it will need to build diplomatic influence as military operations decrease.

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