David Rothkopf

Innovations in diplomacy: introducing the anti-ally alliance

Innovations in diplomacy: introducing the anti-ally alliance

Let’s peel away the diplomatic varnish, shall we? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement today in New Delhi that the U.S. and India are "allies in the fight against violent extremist networks" was essentially the announcement of an alliance against Pakistan. 

Pakistan is America’s ally, of course. We say it all the time. Unfortunately, Pakistan also harbors our enemies, supports our enemies, tolerates the intolerable by our enemies, and is therefore also our enemy. Not all of Pakistan, of course. Just some of the most influential of its elites and institutions as well as substantial cross-sections of its population.

Pakistan therefore has no one to blame for the steady deepening of the security ties between the United States and India than itself. As containing the problems within Pakistan through cooperation with the Pakistanis looks increasingly difficult, it is only natural that the United States should simultaneously develop a Plan B approach. That approach is containment and it necessarily must involve a partnership with India.

That India and the United States share many other interests, are the world’s two leading democracies, having rapidly growing, deepening economic ties, and share cultural links associated with their past experiences within the British empire make the partnership a natural one. Differences and frustrations will exist naturally — and some surrounding the U.S.-India nuclear power deal have surfaced during Clinton’s India visit — but there is perhaps no single major power relationship likely to undergo more positive change over the next several decades than that between Washington and New Delhi. To put it another way, this is the emerging world-developed world major power axis of cooperation to watch most closely as it is the one where the aligned interests are perhaps greatest.

The deterioration of U.S. relations with the Pakistanis coupled with the acceleration of Pakistan’s development of its nuclear arsenal is only one aspect of these ties and, for Clinton, among the most delicate to handle. That’s why her directness in making the statements she did is so striking, timely … and utterly appropriate.

The recent attacks in Mumbai may not, as of yet, be linked to any groups associated with the Pakistanis, but they certainly remind of the attacks that took place in 2008 and claimed 160 lives which were the handiwork of extremist groups with close ties to some in the Pakistani intelligence services.  The fact that these most recent incidents took place while the head of Pakistani intelligence services was visiting Washington was a particularly uncomfortable coincidence.   

So when Clinton said that the U.S. would not accept any nation offering "safe havens and free pass" it is clear who she was talking about. It is clear that the discovery of Osama bin Laden being nurtured in the bosom of Pakistan has had a permanent impact on the relationship and that the subsequent bristling of the Pakistanis and their push back on key aspects of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in combating terror have pushed the alliance to being, in key respects, to use the words of one U.S. government official with whom I recently spoke, "stubbornly dysfunctional." 

The U.S. has had, in the past, myriad dysfunctional alliances. But you have to go back to that with the Soviets in the waning days of World War II to find one in which a leading ally was simultaneously viewed as a leading threat. While the statements in New Delhi today do not suggest that our alliance with Islamabad is finished, it does send a clear message that, as was the case with the Soviets, flawed alliances can be turned into dangerously adversarial relationships almost overnight if the sides involved do not work in good faith to resolve their differences.