Answering the big questions about Pakistan
WASHINGTON -- The discovery that Osama bin Laden had been sheltered for years within sight of core Pakistani military and security installations has refocused attention on the existential questions of both Pakistan itself and its relationship to the transatlantic alliance.
Is Pakistan an ally or an adversary of the West?
The answer, as with so much in Pakistan, is ambiguous. It remains clear that Pakistan would profit in many ways from a trusting strategic relationship with the United States and Europe – and vice versa. But it is also evident that the terms of their relations need to change in light of Pakistani support for Osama bin Laden and the pathologies he represented.
Can Pakistan survive as a state?
Pakistan’s own identity as a state is ambiguous. It was founded by a secular nationalist but its society later was subjected to state-sanctioned Islamicization. Its name is derived from the unity of its provinces, yet the state is subject to growing centrifugal tendencies that risk pulling it apart. Much of Pakistan remains out of Islamabad’s political control. A democratic constitution and free elections co-exist with a “deep state” dominated by the security services. Can
Pakistan bring stability to its neighborhood?
Pakistan’s external relations are similarly conflicted. The country’s civilian leaders seek peace with India even as its intelligence agencies sponsor terrorism against Indians. Islamic extremism is surprisingly weak as an organized political force, yet Pakistani leaders pursue policies that cater to it. No country has a greater interest in a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan, yet Pakistan pursues policies that breed chronic instability next door. By providing sponsorship and sanctuary to NATO’s battlefield adversaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan -- recipient of billions in civilian and military assistance from America and Europe -- bites the hand that feeds it.
Can Pakistan’s double-dealing be managed or contained?
At least we know what doesn’t work. In the early 1990s, after a close partnership with Islamabad to defeat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States slapped sanctions on Pakistan and effectively walked away. What followed was the rampant nuclear proliferation of the A.Q. Khan network and Pakistan’s creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan also began to fall apart as a state during this period of isolation from the West, with the result that General Pervez Musharraf’s 1999 coup was welcomed by many Pakistanis and Western leaders alike. In light of this record, cutting Pakistan off today would not serve Western interests.
What role should Pakistan play in calming Afghanistan?
Some in the West advocate a threat-reduction strategy that reassures Pakistan on its eastern and western frontiers. Such a policy would include rapidly drawing down NATO forces in Afghanistan, giving Pakistan the lead role in shaping an Afghan political settlement, and using American leverage to force India to come to terms with its quarrelsome neighbor. The problem here is that predatory Pakistani behavior in Afghanistan pre-dates Western military involvement there. Geography and history may mean that the Pakistani military’s obsession with “strategic depth” in Afghanistan can never be satisfied. Indeed, it is more likely that a strong, sovereign Afghanistan with long-term Western partners and capable institutions would do more to alleviate Pakistani insecurities than a weak Afghanistan unable to control its territory or govern its people.
Can Pakistan ever reconcile with India?
Pakistani hopes that America’s burgeoning friendship with India will solve Pakistan’s “India problem” are misplaced. Moreover, Pakistan continues to articulate its anti-India strategy through its actions. The Pakistani military’s involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks and other terrorist atrocities have eroded the influence of the Indian camp for peace. Furthermore, it seems odd to blame Pakistan’s pathologies on a country next door that is democratic, increasingly prosperous, and a global success story; it is increasingly clear that Pakistan fears India’s success as inimitable to itself. Finally, the closest India and Pakistan have come to a settlement of their long-running conflict over Kashmir occurred from 2004-7 when Washington pursued a policy of “dehyphenation” that improved relations with both Pakistan and India independently – suggesting that returning to a policy of linkage would, as in the past, produce the opposite effect. In the long-term, the goal of the West must be to build up Pakistani civilian institutions to counter-balance control of foreign policy by the Army and the intelligence services. It must help professionalize Pakistani military culture by encouraging the withdrawal of Pakistan’s military authorities from their nation’s politics through continued training and close engagement between the Pakistani armed forces and the militaries of the democratic West. This can be combined with continuing pressure in the form of drone strikes against terrorists taking sanctuary in Pakistan. Politically, a key goal must be to decouple the leadership of the Afghan Taliban from its Pakistani sponsors. Reports that Afghan Taliban commanders have chafed under Pakistani tutelage suggest that such an opening is ripe -- and could tilt the balance toward an Afghan political settlement that does not grant Pakistan overlordship of its neighbor but instead strengthens Afghan sovereignty. Sooner or later, India’s successful ascent combined with progress in Afghanistan should suggest to Pakistan’s military leaders that a foreign policy predicated on exporting terror is self-defeating. Perhaps only then will Pakistan play its part in reconciling with India and Afghanistan in a way that promotes the economic integration of South and Central Asia, creating a regional hub of dynamism and growth that is more conducive to its people’s aspirations. But for now, the big questions remain.
Daniel Twining is a Senior Fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund in Washington. Photo of John Kerry visiting Pakistan by Salmaan Taseer
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.