Pakistan: Militancy, the Transition to Democracy and Future Relations with the United States

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Pakistan's geostrategic location has made it a country of pivotal importance from the Cold War to the present day. Geography not only shapes Pakistan's foreign policy, but also its defense considerations and strategic outlook. Its crucial position in South Asia, with its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula and access to the Horn of Africa and Central Asia, make it a strategically attractive and unavoidable state for global and regional powers. China continues to be a reliable friend and considers Pakistan a window of strategic opportunity. (1) For Russia, Pakistan could offer access to "warm waters" if Afghanistan were to gain stability, thus improving the level of trust between the two nations. India's imminent emergence as a regional power will likely be contested by Pakistan, and the peace process between the two rivals will continue at a snail's pace.

Pakistan continues to have strong cultural and strategic partnerships with Iran and Saudi Arabia. (2) Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the growing consensus among the Great Powers to curb these, may boost the geostrategic value of Pakistan in the region. With the recent construction of the Gwadar Port, which now serves as a gateway to the Gulf States, Pakistan's importance will only increase in the region. In the coming decades, as the rivalry among global powers to dominate the Indian Ocean intensifies, it becomes likely that whichever power influences the Persian Gulf will control not only the Arabian Sea but also the Indian Ocean. (3) In addition to its strategic geopolitical significance, the global war on terrorism has enhanced Pakistan's significance as a regional hub of terrorism. Pakistan is all at once a country of origin, a destination, a conduit and a victim of global jihad. According to Bruce Riedel's characterization, Pakistan has emerged as the "critical battlefield" in the war against global jihad. (4)

In the post-9/11 world, U.S. policy toward Pakistan has undergone a paradigm shift. In less than a decade, Pakistan has graduated from being a frontline state to being a NATO ally and strategic partner. Since 2002, Pakistan has been the recipient of over $10.5 billion in U.S. military and economic assistance; and more than $1.5 billion in non-military aid is pledged annually for the next five years. (5) From an American military perspective, this region is crucial for global stability and American security as it is home to numerous countries that have supported, funded or politically backed global terrorist groups. The list includes Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and India. With the exception of Israel and India, this geographical area is under the responsibility of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), currently the U.S. military's most important regional command.

American-Pakistani relations are affected by several dynamics. First, it is clear that this shift in U.S.-Pakistan relations is driven primarily by a regional security imperative of which considerations of oil flow, energy needs, regional stability and the global war on terrorism are contributing factors. It is thus vital for the United States to build a strategic partnership with Pakistan. Pakistan has provided the United States with logistical support, airspace and intelligence in the 1950-60s, 1980s and today. From 1979 to 1989, Pakistan played a key role in organizing and supporting the U.S.-led Afghan resistance movement against Soviet occupation. From this period emerges many of today's global terrorism challenges. Second, the U.S. has had an abiding interest specifically in Pakistan because of Pakistan's role in Cold War policies of containment, present-day concerns over Iran, the global war on terror, a Central Asian energy corridor and Pakistan's nuclear assets. There have been "low" and "high" periods in this relationship however, depending on the size and scale of perceived threats to U.S. security interests in a given period. (6)

Third, the U. …