A critical relationship on the critical list: the U.S. and Pakistan today
According to the eye-opening lead story in today’s New York Times, when President Obama gave the order to go get Osama, he also gave the order to go with enough strength to fight off resistance or interference from our Pakistani allies. Which has to trump (in both timeliness and relevance), the story broken by The ...
According to the eye-opening lead story in today’s New York Times, when President Obama gave the order to go get Osama, he also gave the order to go with enough strength to fight off resistance or interference from our Pakistani allies. Which has to trump (in both timeliness and relevance), the story broken by The Guardian detailing how about a decade ago the United States and Pakistan reached a secret deal allowing the U.S. to go into Pakistan after bin Laden … and Pakistan the right to complain about it afterwards.
It has gotten far beyond face-saving posturing in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. This was further demonstrated by the sorry effort made by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in his first post-raid speech to the Pakistani parliament. His assertion that suspicions of Pakistani complicity in protecting bin Laden were "absurd" sounded just as desperate and hollow as his threats that Pakistan would "retaliate with full force" if the United States violated its sovereignty again. Clearly, per the excellent Eric Schmitt, Thom Shanker, and David Sanger story in today’s Times, the United States had anticipated such a response this last time around and come to the conclusion that an extra few dozen troops and two helicopters should just about do it in fending off that threat.
Having said that, the degree of unease with the relationship illustrated by the expectation of possible resistance from the Pakistanis may be a less worrisome sign of how troubled the relationship is than the apparent ok by the president to use force against our nominal ally if it came to that.
Which is why the most important story in today’s papers actually ran on Feb. 11. Once again, the story was broken in the Times by Schmitt and Sanger and in the Washington Post from Karen DeYoung. In a year of big stories it may have been the biggest…and it certainly wins the prize thus far as the most overlooked big story of 2011. In it, it is revealed that over a decade during which the United States has poured tens of billions of aid into Pakistan, Pakistan was aggressively ramping up its production of nuclear weapons. The stories suggested that the country was on the verge of overtaking the U.K. as home to the world’s fifth largest stockpile of nuclear warheads with perhaps as many as 110.
As galling as is the fact that U.S. aid dollars, ever fungible, must have played a significant role in funding the Pakistani nuke binge, worse is the fact that the same guys who are today assuring us that it’s "absurd" that Bin Laden received support from at least some among Pakistani’s intelligence services, military or other government agencies are the ones assuring us that the nuclear arsenal is completely safe and secure.
While it is vital to acknowledge the contribution and massive sacrifices made by many Pakistanis to combating terror and the commitment to peace and stability of top officials and the majority of the Pakistani population, the issue is not their intentions it is their ability to carry them out in a nation that is fragmented and in which there are profound disconnects between the nominal government and big pieces of the country, factions within the country and even elements of the government itself.
The unease and distrust engendered by this situation is only compounded by pro forma denials by politicians like Gilani. One must sympathize with him a bit. Listen to his voice in YouTube versions of his speech. It is clearly the voice of a man who is riding a tiger. And, of course, for the U.S. and the world, what we might be left with after that tiger has his fill of quavering pols from the current regime, could be much, much worse — whether it takes us in the direction of nationalism, fundamentalism or, perhaps most likely, an even weaker central government.
One of the most critical relationships the United States has is clearly now on the "critical condition" list. Intensive care will be required to cultivate allies we can trust and tempting as it may be to pull the plug on the entire relationship, we can ill afford what will happen if we do. Pakistan is a volatile, undependable, dangerous ally. It would be even worse as an enemy or just as a failed state.
Restraint will be required by the administration and the U.S. Congress as we attend to this thorniest of problems. But so too will be creativity. For example, India is convinced that China is aiding Pakistan to help lure it into its sphere of influence. They feel this because it is probably true. But China recognizes as we do that loose nukes in Pakistan would be unspeakably dangerous. They have in the past offered to work with us to help contain such threats…even as they bear considerable responsibility for having helped create them. Even though their track record is troubling and many of their interests are inconsistent with ours, because our absolute foremost interest with regard to Pakistan is in ensuring the security of that nuclear stockpile, we will have to find a way to work with Beijing on this issue (largely behind the scenes of course.
That’s the Pakistan Condundrum: An indispensable and insufferable ally wrapped in what some have called the world’s most dangerous nation, a country on the verge of being both a top five nuclear power and a failed state, a patchwork of tribal and regional cultures that are home to festering threats can only be contained by working with neighbors who are often at cross purposes with one another and sometimes with us, a place in dire need of humanitarian aid that has proven likely to misuse it and to be ungrateful. It is all these things and one more — right now, of all the relationships the United States has in the world, it is the most important one that is in the greatest jeopardy.
David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf
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