Shadow Government

How to deal with Pakistan: Drones, India, Russia, and more

Islamabad is in turmoil. Army Chief Ashraf Parvez Kayani, already angered by the number and intensity of American drone attacks on Pakistani soil, has made it clear that Pakistan will react strongly to any other targeted assassinations on its territory. ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha faces calls for his resignation, even as his agency is ...

Ishara S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
Ishara S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

Islamabad is in turmoil. Army Chief Ashraf Parvez Kayani, already angered by the number and intensity of American drone attacks on Pakistani soil, has made it clear that Pakistan will react strongly to any other targeted assassinations on its territory. ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha faces calls for his resignation, even as his agency is suspected of leaking the name of the U.S. station chief in Islamabad. There are calls for President Asif Ali Zardari’s resignation as well, while a significant segment of the Pakistani public seems overwhelmingly outraged by the killing of bin Laden.

U.S. relations with Pakistan have never been easy. Congress was uncomfortable with Pakistan’s ruling generals — be they Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq, or Pervez Musharraf. It imposed sanctions on civilian-ruled Pakistan in 1998 because of its nuclear test. Many on Capitol Hill are convinced that A.Q. Khan, a hero in Pakistan, could only have successfully maintained his nuclear proliferation network with the tacit cooperation of the Pakistani leadership — whether civilian or military. And many members of Congress resent Pakistan’s close ties with China, strident opposition to Israel, and support of terrorism against India.

America’s relationship with Pakistan has always been little more than a loveless marriage of convenience. Whether "tilting toward Pakistan" in 1971, in order to confound pro-Soviet India; working with Zia to support the anti-Soviet mujahideen; or providing funds to Musharraf to enable him to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, there has been neither consistency nor staying power in Washington’s outreach to Islamabad. As a result, mistrust between the two governments, never far below the surface, is easily intensified and highly combustible.

What then to do about the relationship? If the United States leaves Afghanistan to its fate, as it did in the early 1990s, it could perhaps risk ignoring Pakistan as well, as it in fact did during that same period. But ignoring a nuclear-armed state is not a policy, and in any event, the United States, however many troops it draws down, is unlikely to leave Afghanistan for some time. Unless Washington is prepared to accept that renegade Taliban, Haqqani, and other groups will have a completely safe haven in Pakistan, it will still need some degree of cooperation with Islamabad. Moreover, maintaining a decent, if rocky, relationship with Pakistan would confound Iran, which almost went to war with its Sunni neighbor in the 1990s, and will perplex China, which would rather Pakistan be its exclusive client.

On the other hand, Washington certainly needs to demonstrate to Pakistan that it is not solely dependent on Islamabad’s goodwill for its operations in Afghanistan. Deepening its dialogue with India on matters Afghan, and maybe even doing so with Russia, may be one way for Washington to signal to Islamabad that there are other options besides exclusive reliance on its support.

Perhaps the best policy therefore is neither to forsake nor to indulge Pakistan, but to pursue a combination of selective support and selective indifference. Drone and other operations against terrorist suspects should continue, despite Pakistani protestations. On the other hand, military aid should be maintained at or near current levels, though subject to far greater scrutiny regarding how U.S. dollars actually are spent. And economic assistance should be reduced but not eliminated.

Such a policy by its very nature will not satisfy many people. Many Washington policymakers, and wonks, prefer to view international relations in black-and-white terms. But South and Central Asia, with its web of tribal and historical rivalries, is just too complex for simplistic remedies. In these circumstances, 70 or even 60 percent solution may well be the optimum to be hoped for.

Dov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.

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