Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Sir Hilary Synnott: Yes, be angry with Pakistan’s treachery, but don’t go nuts

By Sir Hilary Synnott Best Defense guest diplomatic columnist The notion that Pakistan has, in Western eyes, been a treacherous ally since 2001 is well-founded and not new. The world has recently been reminded of the conflicting interests and practices by recollections of Prime Minister David Cameron’s declaration that Pakistan has been ‘looking both ways’ ...

Fantaz/Flickr
Fantaz/Flickr

By Sir Hilary Synnott
Best Defense guest diplomatic columnist

The notion that Pakistan has, in Western eyes, been a treacherous ally since 2001 is well-founded and not new. The world has recently been reminded of the conflicting interests and practices by recollections of Prime Minister David Cameron’s declaration that Pakistan has been ‘looking both ways’ and by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s references to the duplicity he encountered when he was a frequent visitor to Islamabad in 2001-02, when I was High Commissioner there and had similar experiences.

But the revelation of the presence in Abbottabad, one of the country’s most militarised cities, of the world’s most wanted criminal ‘on the run’ for ten years, suggests a new and different order of magnitude of perfidy.

And international reaction will have been sharpened by the Pakistan establishment’s astonishingly inept attempts at self justification: Prime Minister Gilani’s accusation that any failing on the part of Pakistan reflected the failings of other countries’ intelligence services; and Foreign Secretary Bashir’s exhortations that we should put the episode behind us and look forward. This last is reminiscent of General Musharraf’s attempts to deal with the reaction to his land grab in Kargil in Kashmir in 1999.

So there will be a natural temptation to contemplate a wholesale shift in the United States’ and others’ relationship with Pakistan, perhaps the cessation of all aid, including the Kerry-Lugar-Berman packages for the social and educational sector.

This would be a mistake. While the status quo may no longer be acceptable and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship needs to and should be recalibrated, it will do no good to cut off hope for economic improvement and employment opportunities in a nuclear armed country with a population six times that of Afghanistan and an exploding demographic profile.

Rather, the United States should continue, resolutely, steadily and with no false expectations, to try to disburse assistance for social development. It should target and account for its military-related assistance much more carefully than hitherto. And it should close off Pakistan’s access to big-ticket arms contracts, paid for from Pakistan’s own sparse funds, which can only be used against India while, if possible, liberalising access to U.S. markets for Pakistani textiles.

Sir Hilary Synnott was British High Commissioner to Pakistan 2000-2003. He is author of Transforming Pakistan: Ways Out of Instability and a memoir of his service in Iraq, Bad Days in Basra.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1