October 26, 2010

U.S. Policy Towards Pakistan Remains Schizophrenic

The following article, written for ANI, was reproduced by Sify and Yahoo! India, among other online publications, on October 26, 2010.

Washington, Oct. 26 (ANI): Last week's U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue produced the mixed signals that have grown customary to anyone who follows relations between those two countries.

On the one hand, U.S. officials spoke in positive tones about the need for intensified bilateral cooperation, and agreed to a slight increase in military aid to Pakistan to 400 million dollars per year for five years.

At the same time, they reportedly warned Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that the U.S. would retaliate against terrorist attacks emanating on Pakistani soil, and asked that Pakistan do more to combat militancy and terrorism on its soil.

What they did not formally inform their Pakistani interlocutors of was their newfound willingness to cut off military aid to units found guilty of human rights abuses.

Such mixed messages are always hard to decipher, but reflect to a great degree internal debates on how best to deal with the multiple challenges posed by Pakistan. Perhaps nothing better illustrates U.S. policy schizophrenia than two recent articles, one by former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker and the other by former ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

Writing in the New York Times, Khalilzad argued that the United States has no choice but to take a tougher line, and threaten greater unilateral military action if Pakistan is unable to deliver.

"The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent," he said.

Crocker, writing in the Wall Street Journal, advocated the very opposite.

He said: "The U.S. should not carry out cross-border military actions...They are clearly counterproductive, and not just because we hit the wrong target. If NATO can carry out military actions in Pakistan from the west, Pakistanis wonder, what stops India from doing the same from the east?"

Unilateral cross-border military actions are but one example of the complex debate raging within the U.S. policymaking community. That members of the Pakistani leadership often weigh in with their own preferences, only muddies the picture further. Several other aspects to this debate are just as important to note.

The first concerns whether to engage and support Pakistan. The dominant Pakistani narrative is one of abandonment and sanctions by the United States after the two countries cooperated to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

There is considerable agreement in Washington that a decade of sanctions against Pakistan did not help, but instead allowed the region to radicalize, Pakistani governance to erode, and the Taliban to consolidate itself in Afghanistan.

This explains the continuing commitment by the United States to long-term civilian and military assistance to Pakistan, despite continuing Pakistani transgressions.

A second debate concerns the role of Pakistani intelligence agencies, most notably the ISI. The ISI has helped its case by providing valuable tactical intelligence for the United States. At the same time, it has pursued its own agenda in the northwest frontier and in Afghanistan, and has been involved with groups plotting terrorist attacks against Indian interests.

U.S. policymakers differ considerably on the level of ISI involvement in terrorist attacks in the region. Most believe that only a few "rogue" elements, including former ISI officers, are involved. Others see the ISI as a "state within a state," not accountable to other arms of the government, including the army. Few are willing to consider the ISI an arm of the military, and confer responsibility for the ISI's activities upon the army leadership.

Third, what about India? The mainstream view in the United States, advocated even by Khalilzad, is that India is a cause of Pakistani insecurity and bringing peace between Pakistan and India is necessary for stabilizing the region. There is more divergence over how to bring this about, with many advocating a behind-the-scenes role for Washington.

Those unfamiliar with the region's history often argue for more active U.S. involvement. Others point to the success of the composite dialogue and backchannel talks between 2004 and 2007 as evidence that the two sides are best left to their own devices, and that an active American role would only be counterproductive.

To a considerable degree, these ongoing debates - over the utility of unilateral strikes, the necessity of long-term assistance, the role of the ISI and the value of U.S. diplomatic intervention in the India-Pakistan peace process - made themselves felt during last week's dialogue. Just as importantly, their resolutions will profoundly shape U.S. policy towards Pakistan and its region going forward.