September 30, 2011

Pulling U.S.-Pakistan Policy out of the Shadows

My post on U.S. Pakistan policy appeared on Foreign Policy's Af-Pak Channel on September 30, 2011. An excerpt is below. The full text can be accessed here.

The big difference between the 1990s and today is the presence and role of the United States in South Asia. In the 90s, Washington was completely disengaged from the region, turning a blind eye to the rise of the Taliban and even indicating an interest in doing business with them, all of which resulted in the unfortunate consequences he details. But 9/11 permanently changed all that: the United States can no longer afford to completely disengage from the region. Actively containing Pakistan is an entirely different prospect from ignoring and sanctioning the country. As such, Washington cannot presume that a tougher line on Pakistan today will have the same consequences that it did in the years before 9/11.

On balance, Washington probably underestimates its leverage with Pakistan. The United States has an unparalleled range of military, diplomatic, economic and socio-cultural tools at its disposal, and enjoys global reach and influence. Given the new realities that will mark the relationship by the end of next year -- a diminished U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, continuing unilateral strikes against terrorist targets, and a credible alternate supply route to Afghanistan -- Washington can probably afford to be more bold in employing them. However, the tendency to err on the side of caution, as Schake and Miller argue, may yet prevent Washington from fully exploring viable alternatives to its current dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan. It would be a tragedy if U.S. policymakers were still engaged in similar discussions five years from now.