Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US-Pakistan Partnership: Make It Work for Both Sides

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US-Pakistan Partnership: Make It Work for Both Sides

Article excerpt

US relations with Pakistan are key to success in Afghanistan. Here's how to bolster them.

President Obama's Dec. 1 address to the nation correctly listed a

partnership with Pakistan as a crucial foundation of policy toward

Afghanistan.

Sustaining that partnership may be his most formidable challenge.

The Achilles' heel of our past alliances with Pakistan has been

both countries' unwillingness to confront the discrepancies in

their goals. This time, we need to be clear on where our goals do and

don't coincide, and what we are prepared to do about them.

Calculus after 9/11When Pakistan signed up for the US-led campaign

against terrorism in the anxious days following 9/11, the two

partners, as in the past, had objectives that overlapped - but only

in part. Pakistan, like the United States, saw Al Qaeda as a danger

to the world. But its other objectives were not shared by the US.

As it had when it worked with the US during the cold war, Islamabad

hoped to bolster its rivalry with India through US power. Pakistan

wanted to enhance its influence, and eliminate India's, in

Afghanistan. These goals were more important for Pakistan than the US

objective of ending the Taliban regime and putting extremist groups

out of business.

The collapse of Afghanistan's Taliban government late in 2001

highlighted the difference. For the US, it was the first big success

of the war against terrorism; for Pakistan, it looked like a

strategic disaster. Pakistan was losing an embarrassing but pliant

ally, and Kabul would now be under a government billed as friendly to

India.

By early 2007, the disconnect between the two countries'

objectives was obvious. The regrouped Taliban threatened both the

NATO military forces and the Karzai government, and US officials

publicly expressed concern about the support they enjoyed from

Pakistan's intelligence services.

Pakistan's official policy favored strengthening and stabilizing

the Afghan government. However, Pakistani decisionmakers, with

uniformly low expectations of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's

attitude toward Pakistan and his government's capacity, had strong

motives for keeping their ties with the group they had helped install

in Kabul in the mid-1990s.

First things firstCountries defend their own interests first, before

worrying about those of their friends, so it is unrealistic to expect

that Pakistan's goals will be fully in sync with those of the US.

But Islamabad's record this past year is heartening.

It has deployed the Army against domestic Taliban insurgents both in

the "settled areas" of Pakistan like the Swat Valley, and in the

ungoverned tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border like South

Waziristan.

Its recognition that these will be long-term campaigns vital to the

state indicates that there is a greater degree of congruence between

US and Pakistani perceptions of the threat of terrorism than many

Pakistanis had previously accepted. …

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