Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Tom Lynch: Tom R., here’s what a nuanced Pakistan policy looks like

No one is ever right all the time, especially on problems as vexing as U.S. relations with Pakistan. That’s why I try to run guest columns that disagree with me. Here’s a take on Pakistan somewhat different from my view offered yesterday. By Col. Tom Lynch, U.S. Army (ret.) Best Defense bureau of responsible opposing ...

kevindooley/Flickr
kevindooley/Flickr
kevindooley/Flickr

No one is ever right all the time, especially on problems as vexing as U.S. relations with Pakistan. That's why I try to run guest columns that disagree with me. Here's a take on Pakistan somewhat different from my view offered yesterday.

By Col. Tom Lynch, U.S. Army (ret.)
Best Defense bureau of responsible opposing viewpoints

This is truly America's most troubled relationship with an erstwhile ally since the Soviet Union in World War II, but an important one to manage soberly and realistically.

No one is ever right all the time, especially on problems as vexing as U.S. relations with Pakistan. That’s why I try to run guest columns that disagree with me. Here’s a take on Pakistan somewhat different from my view offered yesterday.

By Col. Tom Lynch, U.S. Army (ret.)
Best Defense bureau of responsible opposing viewpoints

This is truly America’s most troubled relationship with an erstwhile ally since the Soviet Union in World War II, but an important one to manage soberly and realistically.

Realism requires us to grudgingly understand that Pakistan continues to operate from a paradigm where it demands equality with India, blames India for all of its perils, leverages "irregular warfare groups" (that are predominantly Islamic radicals) and nuclear weapons in a quixotic effort to level the security playing field with New Delhi, and ascribes nefarious motives to any country that doesn’t consistently help it score points against India in the region and internationally. It also requires us to acknowledge that designating Pakistan as enemy remains a course fraught with peril and outcomes far worse than we’ve seen to this point.

In this context, our policy approach toward Pakistan since 2008/09 is wrongly branded as failure. Instead it has course-corrected a failed policy from 2001-07 of just feeding Musharraf money and trusting that he was committed to ending support for regional and international terrorists. Our efforts since late 2008 have been expensive, but far from failed. We’ve built a CT intel and strike network of depth and complexity in Afghanistan that has enabled many of our drone strikes and an extensive mapping of terrorist and militant ops there and in much of Pakistan. Capitalizing on Pakistani civilian differences with their mil-intel complex, and on PakMIL-ISI embarrassments over the entrails from the failed May 2010 Times Square terrorist bombing episode (and others), we’ve built an independent network of intelligence operatives within Pakistan.

The results are shown in the bin Laden raid, in drone strike successes against many senior international terror figures (a truth that Pakistan ISI obfuscation cannot alter), and in many other areas that we are not yet allowed to see in the unclassified world. Indeed, we’ve now got a set of processes and frameworks that enable us a window into Pakistan that can be game-changing — but not if Pakistan’s military-intelligence leadership won’t make the decision to change.

Now is the time to press PakMIL-ISI hard on its duplicity, on their need for a new narrative of Pakistan moving forward, and on our demands for cooperation in two immediate priorities: (1) Kill/capture Ayman al-Zawahiri and (2) Mounting pressure on the Afghan Taliban leadership to make it hard for them to regenerate losses suffered & suffering in Afghanistan. We won’t give these priorities a chance if we take this moment of greatest leverage as an excuse to just walk away. This won’t be an easy sell on Capitol Hill, but it is a vital one.

Col. Tom Lynch (U.S. Army, ret.) was special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2008 to 2010. He is now the National Defense University’s distinguished research fellow for Near East and South Asia.

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

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