Nuclear-armed Pakistan is too critical for Washington to abandon
again as it moves to withdraw from Afghanistan. The tragic flooding
in Pakistan gives the United States a rare opportunity to
demonstrate goodwill and break the cynical cycle of its relationship
The recent Wikileaks exposure of over 90,000 classified US
documents about the Afghan war revealed a Pakistan that has been
both a major American ally and, at times, engaged in supporting the
very Taliban who kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.
No wonder Washington's and the American public's frustration with
Pakistan is growing. As public support for the war in Afghanistan
flags, so, too, could America's commitment to Pakistan.
That would be a big mistake. America has abandoned Pakistan
before, after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, with regrettable
results. It can't afford to do so again - nuclear-armed Pakistan is
simply too important and dangerous now.
Instead, both Washington and Islamabad must break the cynical,
transactional bonds of their relationship, and work to form a
partnership that supports their long-term, mutual interests. That
won't be easy. But it's the only way the United States can protect
its national security interests in Southwest Asia.
A most important - and least understood - country
America can begin by educating itself about a land of which it
remains terribly ignorant.
With 177 million people, Pakistan is the sixth-most-populous
country on the planet and it has a very young population, with 64
million people 14 years of age or younger.
It is also the only country that within the past 15 years has
manufactured, tested, and proliferated nuclear weapons; had a
military coup d'etat (and a subsequent peaceful return to power of
civilian politicians); been forced to seek a bailout from the
International Monetary Fund to avoid an economic collapse (2008);
and become the global epicenter for Islamist militancy and
extremism. Yet, few people in the West understand all of these
problems, or Pakistan's efforts to solve them.
Mostly, we see Pakistan as we always have, as an on-again-off
again "ally" whose relationship with the United States is
transactional - that is, we enlist them when we need help against
the Soviet Union or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, for example, pay them
generously while the relationship is on, and then drop the
relationship when we do not need them.
Our fecklessness is due in part to the fact that we know
virtually nothing about Pakistan, a place far from and alien to the
Although the Pakistani diaspora population is significant, with
more than seven million Pakistanis living abroad, only 300,000 or so
live in the United States, where there is no appreciation for the
ancient Indus River Valley civilization (the pharaohs and pyramids
of Egypt's Nile River Valley Civilization are much better known),
Pakistani sports (cricket, anyone?), music (Junoon, Pakistan's
biggest rock band of the 1990s, just put out a new song), or the
latest movies from Lollywood (its Lahore-based movie industry).
While we treat Pakistan as an unreliable client, Pakistan treats
the US as a far-away, fair-weather friend. Pakistan and the United
States currently find themselves embroiled in an on-again period of
uncertain friendship, but neither side counts on the relationship to
Pakistan expects the United States to walk away again, while the
US believes that Pakistan will continue to see itself as caught
between two rising great powers, China and India, each with nuclear
arsenals and aspirations to dominate Asia. China (which also sees
India as a rival) is Pakistan's northern neighbor and "all-weather"
ally. India is Pakistan's great resented rival and hegemon of the
South Asian subcontinent.
The two countries were created by Britain's partition of the
subcontinent in 1947, when the colonial territory ruled under the
British Raj was divided into a Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-
dominated Pakistan (then including East Pakistan, which in 1971
would become independent as Bangladesh). …