Vali Nasr for Bloomberg: Partnership, Not Pressure, to Win Pakistan’s Help

September 23rd, 2011


Partnership, Not Pressure, to Win Pakistan’s Help: Vali Nasr

Sep 23, 2011 11:15 AM ET

Now that the U.S. has openly accused Pakistan of helping plan and conduct the attack earlier this month on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the Obama administration’s exit strategy from Afghanistan is looking increasingly cloudy.

An American departure depends on Pakistan’s cooperation in keeping things quiet. Yet its spy agency, the ISI, helped plan and conduct the embassy assault with the Islamist Haqqani network, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The U.S. government sees the Haqqani group, which is based in Pakistan, as an al-Qaedaaffiliate. Pakistan denies these claims, but it has been unwilling to move against the group’s safe haven within Pakistan’s borders. The U.S. has threatened to take unilateral action if Pakistan doesn’t crack down.

Can the U.S. and Pakistan ever get on the same page?

Since the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last spring, U.S.-Pakistan relations have been in free fall. The U.S. has put pressure on Pakistan to do more to fight terrorism. U.S. officials ended their “strategic dialogue” with Pakistan, suspended $800 million in military aid and, for the first time, made public their private views that Pakistan is duplicitous on counterterrorism matters. Recently, the administration openly implicated Pakistan’s military leaders in the murder of a Pakistani journalist, and now, Mullen has said the ISI and Pakistani army use the Haqqani network as “proxies.”

But pressure tactics haven’t worked. Pakistani officials counter U.S. threats of unilateral action with talk of closing supply routes to Afghanistan and ending all counterterrorism cooperation. In private, they say they have written off U.S. assistance as too small and inconsistent to influence their decision-making. Given the economic climate, they say, Congress would have trimmed the aid anyway.

Pakistan’s leaders also believe they can make friends elsewhere. For instance, when the U.S. rolled back energy assistance, which had been a big part of the bilateral relationship from 2009 to 2011, Pakistan restarted talks with Iran about building a gas pipeline between the two countries. This initiative undermined U.S. efforts to isolate Iran in the region. What’s more, such a pipeline would compete with the U.S.-supported TAPI project, which would bring natural gas from Turkmenistan to India and Pakistan through Afghanistan. The U.S. has been promoting the idea of Afghanistan as a transit corridor connecting resources in Central Asia to markets in South Asia and the rest of the world, creating a New Silk Road that would foster stability in Afghanistan. Read More…