Coming up Short on Pakistan
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org : December 14, 2009
President Barack Obama's strategy approving a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan called success there "inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan." But the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is riddled with problems. U.S. officials are concerned about terrorist safe havens in Pakistan's border areas, and there are reports that the United States may expand its covert airstrikes in the border region. In Pakistan, there are concerns about U.S. plans to withdraw from the region starting in 2011. Five independent Pakistani experts assess Obama's strategy, explore the largely negative response in Pakistan, and discuss the military and political pitfalls of the plan.
For journalist and author Ahmed Rashid and Asia Society fellow Hassan Abbas, Obama's plan fails to address the question of India, Pakistan's biggest security concern. Former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi warns that military escalation--particularly the expansion of aerial strikes in Pakistan--could inflame an already fragile security situation. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political analyst, and Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, cite concerns in Islamabad that there is no plan for Pakistan after U.S. forces quit Afghanistan.
The outcome of the Obama administration's stretched Afghanistan policy review process was anxiously awaited not only in the United States but in Islamabad. Pakistan was complaining for a while that the United States was not sharing its Afghanistan strategy and long-term plan with them. A series of recent visits from high-level U.S. officials to Islamabad were meant to dispel this impression and offer an expanded partnership. In response, Pakistan has cautiously welcomed the new plan, but in reality it is still trying to decipher it fully. Given how the senior U.S. officials of the State and Defense Departments are daily adding new meanings to Obama's words through their "creative interpretations," the Pakistani government cannot be blamed if it appears to be slow in understanding the real intent and scope of the new strategy.
Pakistan is facing a terrifying wave of terrorist attacks in its major cities--targeting ordinary people as well as security personnel and their families. Widening political rifts and an assertive judiciary can change the country's political landscape quite quickly. In this scenario, no one in Pakistani power corridors is expected to respond positively to ultimatums and tough demands. President Obama gauged this situation very well and gave a firm but friendly message to Pakistan, basically saying, "We need you, and success of our policy is dependent on your unflinching cooperation." Long-term U.S. commitment to Pakistan is offered if this works out.
Pakistan, however, was also expecting a deal that includes guarantees that India's security-related role in Afghanistan will be reduced. Unless there is some behind-the- scene understanding on this count, Pakistan may not be able to live up to Obama's expectations. Ideally, India and Pakistan should join hands to stabilize Afghanistan, but someone needs to facilitate that kind of an arrangement. Obama has the stature, potential, and vision to play that role.
Any expanded CIA role in Pakistan (especially in terms of drone strikes in Balochistan and ground assaults in Federally Administered Tribal Areas/North West Frontier Province), as speculated in the media, will be disastrous for the U.S.-Pakistan relations besides creating further rifts between the civil and military leadership in the country.
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