Our ally in Islamabad

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Today’s question: The Bush administration has chosen to make Pakistan -- a nuclear country with a history of sharing its secrets and an enemy of our friends in India -- a key ally in the war against terror. What is the future of our relationship with Pakistan? Does it need to be rethought (especially in light of the Mumbai attacks)? Previously, Korb and Rivkin discussed the circumstances under which the Obama administration should send U.S. troops to war.

Stop focusing only on Pakistan’s military and leaders
Point: Lawrence J. Korb

Pakistan will pose one of the greatest foreign policy challenges for the incoming Obama administration. How Pakistan addresses its many challenges will directly influence the security of the United States. The Obama administration must work with Pakistan, its friends and neighbors to create a new strategy for enhancing security in Pakistan to make it an effective ally in the war on terrorism. But U.S. policymakers must understand the key challenges facing Pakistan and surrounding countries.


First, Pakistan is experiencing growing internal violence and regional instability. A strengthening, multi-headed adaptive network of extremists made up of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and affiliated indigenous militant groups is escalating deadly attacks within Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Second, Pakistan is confronting failing governance. Its civilian government remains weak following years of military rule, under-investment in Pakistan’s government institutions and dysfunctional political leadership. The 2008 Failed States Index ranks Pakistan as the ninth most likely state in the world to fail.

Third, the Pakistani economy is in a downward spiral. Inflation is at 25%, its foreign currency reserves are plummeting, and the government is in danger of defaulting on its debt.

These challenges feed on each other in a dangerous cycle. To combat them, the United States needs to make a shift from a reactive, transactional, short-term approach that is narrowly focused on bilateral efforts to a more proactive, long-term strategy that seeks to advance stability and prosperity inside Pakistan. The U.S. must do this through a multilateral, regional approach.

For decades, U.S. policy has pursued short-term stability in Pakistan at all costs, utilizing a self-defeating strategy of almost exclusive support of the country’s military establishment and individual leaders. It has offered insufficient and inconsistent support to civilian institutions and programs that directly affect the lives of average Pakistanis. What’s worse, the United States has approached Pakistan in a vacuum, neglecting to recognize the regional nature of the country’s challenges and the competing and sometimes contradictory roles played by numerous groups inside Pakistan.

In the seven years since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration only deepened this policy approach. By tying its policy to former President Pervez Musharraf, the administration overemphasized a conventional military approach, poured unaccountable and nontransparent funds into Pakistan’s defense establishment and did not work closely enough with other nations and organizations whose interests in Pakistan are as much at stake as ours. This approach has not served U.S. or Pakistani interests, nor is it aligned with U.S. values.


Now, however, there are several factors that offer the opportunity to make a positive shift in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

For the first time in almost a decade, the United States and the world have legitimate partners in the democratically elected government of Pakistan. This government, while internally divided and weak, has greater legitimacy with Pakistanis than the Musharraf regime. Furthermore, Pakistan has numerous allies in the region and the world that are assisting it in addressing its challenges.

Congress is heavily engaged in the issue. Vice President-elect Joe Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and ranking Republican Richard Lugar recently introduced the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2008. The bill would broaden the U.S.-Pakistani relationship beyond military relations and authorize $7.5 billion over five years to go toward projects “intended to benefit the people of Pakistan.”

The incoming administration can overcome the current distrust that the government of Pakistan and its people hold toward President Bush. Moreover, the strains between the Bush administration and numerous other countries, including our European allies, have hurt our nation’s efforts on Pakistan.

To take advantage of these opportunities, the new U.S. administration, with Congress and the international community, should strive to help Pakistan accomplish the following goals.

First, weaken Al Qaeda, the Taliban and affiliated militant groups so they no longer threaten stability in the region, the United States or the world. Second, secure borders between Pakistan and its neighbors. The U.S. and its allies should work to resolve all border disputes, including those of Kashmir and the Durand Line (the disputed boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan). Third, foster a stable internal political system that is based on the inclusive participation of all Pakistani citizens, civilian oversight of key security and intelligence agencies and governing authorities that respect basic human rights. Finally, help create a growing economy, integrated with the global marketplace, that provides for the needs of Pakistanis.


To implement these goals, the U.S. must adopt policies that recognize the regional dimension of Pakistan’s security challenge. Afghanistan, India and Pakistan are inextricably linked, and U.S. policy must be formulated accordingly. The U.S. must also organize integrated international support to the troubled country. Pakistanis’ suspicions of the United States mean that multilateral approaches will work more effectively.

The U.S. must also shift away from a narrow focus on military and intelligence cooperation. Long-term stability in Pakistan depends not only on curtailing extremism but also on strengthening its economy and democracy and on reducing tensions between Pakistan and its neighbors. Furthermore, the U.S. should integrate its military approaches into a wider political strategy for the region. The U.S. government should engage with leaders of Pakistan’s civilian institutions and civil society in addition to its military establishment.

Finally, the U.S. should support the democratic transition in Pakistan without favoring candidates or political parties. The United States should support broader political reform in Pakistan along with economic development programs and efforts to enhance security.

To sum up my points, Pakistan’s current instability threatens its people, its neighbors, the United States and the world. The Obama administration must seize the opportunities to implement a dramatic strategic shift in U.S. policy toward Pakistan.

Lawrence J. Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration.

Balancing security and democracy-building
Counterpoint: David B. Rivkin Jr.


Larry, your description of Pakistan’s many woes -- political, economic and security -- is spot on. What to do about them, however, is a much more difficult question and the one on which we seem to disagree.

First, you scarcely acknowledge that the Pakistani government, whether under Musharraf or under the newly elected civilian leadership, has not been very effective in battling Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Reasonable people can disagree whether Musharraf was more effective in this area, especially because the extent of the government’s military efforts against the jihadist organizations in the tribal areas has gone up and down during his tenure and because the civilian government has been in power for a relatively short time.

Still, the situation is clearly unsatisfactory, with the Taliban exercising de facto control over substantial portions of Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Pakistani military is reluctant to press sustained offensive operations against the Taliban, and the security establishment is entirely too friendly with the various jihadist entities. Meanwhile, Pakistani public opinion, despite a series of high-casualty terrorist attacks, remains largely hostile to the notion of taking on and defeating terrorist organizations.

The second and related problem is that your description of how important it is to help foster the long-term democratic transformation in Pakistan does not seem to take into account the fact that Islamabad’s current lukewarm anti-terrorism policies make it difficult, if not impossible, to stabilize Afghanistan. Pushing the Pakistani government to do so and using American-owned resources to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in the tribal areas is an absolutely essential component of any viable strategy for victory in Afghanistan.

I recognize, of course, that American air strikes against targets in Pakistan are highly unpopular and that pushing the Pakistani government to tolerate these types of activities as well as to redouble their own anti-terrorist efforts is unpopular and in some ways destabilizing. However, given the stakes involved, the United States has no choice but to do what’s unpopular. The essence of good statecraft for the Obama administration is to balance the long-term democracy-enhancing aspects of our policy toward Islamabad with the short- to medium-term security needs. Ignoring the latter and concentrating only on the former would lead to a strategic disaster.

This brings me to my third and last problem with your analysis. Nowhere do you mention the fact that the Pakistani security services and the political establishment bear responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The extent of this responsibility remains to be determined; the fact that this responsibility exists is not in dispute. This is a momentous development that merits a serious U.S. response, which must affect our relations with Pakistan. One of the great and unheralded accomplishments of the Bush administration is that, in the post-9/11 world, India, the world’s largest democracy, has largely abandoned its erstwhile anti-American strategic posture and is on its way to becoming our strategic partner. This vital relationship ought to be nurtured.


We cannot let New Delhi conclude that we do not take seriously Pakistan’s responsibility for what happened in Mumbai or that we are not prepared to support India’s reasonable requests, which are addressed at making sure that in the future such attacks are less likely to be launched from Pakistan. If we fail to do so, we would harm our relationship with India and make it more likely that the Indian government would conclude that it has no choice but to use force to make Pakistan pay for its pro-jihadist policies. Hence, in my view, the Obama administration ought to press Pakistan hard, privately and publicly, to meet India halfway and further intensify its current lukewarm anti-terrorism policies.

How to do this without provoking a major crisis in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is the real challenge, and it will require the most adroit diplomacy. An early visit to Pakistan by a high-level Obama administration official, similar to the post-9/11 visit by the then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, would be a good way to start.

David B. Rivkin Jr., partner in the Washington office of Baker Hostetler and a contributing editor of the National Review and National Interest magazines, served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations in a variety of legal and policy positions.