US-Pakistan Need ‘Strategic Partnership’

While our two countries have been allies since the 1950s, neither side has viewed the relationship strategically, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s new Ambassador to the United States, told the Atlantic Council. Instead, the relationship has been viewed through the lens of other issues.  This legacy must change in order to solve the complex issues facing our countries.

Haqqani’s visit was scheduled before yesterday’s unfortunate incident in which eleven Pakistani paramilitaries were killed in a bombing attack by American forces against Taliban forces near the Afghanistan border.  As Atlantic Council president and CEO Frederick Kempe noted, the event was even more proof that “nowhere is more salient” than this region for U.S. and transatlantic interests.

While the Pakistani military called the incident “completely unprovoked and cowardly” and Haqqani himself had called it “unfortunate and certainly unacceptable,” he repeatedly stressed that it could not be allowed to undermine the U.S.-Pakistan relationship nor the important fight against terrorism.

Haqqani observed that President Dwight Eisenhower had once dubbed Pakistan the United States’ “most allied ally” because of its membership in so many multilateral organizations. At the same time, it has long been a “yo-yo relationship” because “the United States never looked at Pakistan in its own light” but rather as a means of achieving aims in some larger effort, whether it was the Cold War, India, nuclear proliferation, or terrorism.  For its part, Pakistan was always “looking for a quid pro quorather than a deep understanding.”

Moving forward, the two countries must form the “foundations for a strategic partnership.”  Too often, short-term thinking has caused long term problems.  He cited, for example, the U.S. efforts to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan during the late 1970s and the 1980s.  By supporting the “jihad” of the “mujahedeen” against the Soviets, we created a lasting problem.  Now that we’re fighting the same people, its very difficult for the Pakistanis to convince them that they’re no longer fighting a noble cause or violating the dictates of the Koran.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration approached the government of Pervez Musharraf with an ultimatum:  Are you with us or against us?  He chose the latter but neither side had a strategic plan for actually achieving the counter-terrorist objective.  What were the root causes?  What impact did Pakistan’s socio-economic conditions have on the fight and how should this be best addressed?  These were mostly sublimated in favor of a military-only solution that was less than effective.

Pakistan’s new government has only been in power for a few weeks and it will take time to reverse these trends.  The “cumulative effects of policies and mistakes” by the international community, the US, and Pakistan must be addressed.  Moreover, trust needs to be established between the two governments in order to allow necessary real-time intelligence sharing.

 Haqqani outlined a five-step plan for fighting the war on terror that his government is working to put in place:

    • Military Component:  Continue fighting insurgents and terrorists who will not obey the law through military means.  This needs to be done on both sides of the border and will likely require more NATO forces in Afghanistan.

    • Intelligence Component: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US must share intelligence in a real-time manner to avoid incidents like yesterday’s and to develop actionable intelligence to fight al Qaeda and Taliban forces.

    • Political Component: There are 3 million people in tribal lands and several million more in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border belt.  The border is “complex” and “fluid” for both geographical and historic reasons.  Many literally live on one side of the border and graze their livestock on the other.  While he understands American impatience with the situation, he points to our problems securing the Mexican border against illegal immigration and notes that Pakistan’s task is much more difficult.

    • Socio-economic Component:  The government must integrate the tribal lands into the national economy and provide incentives to do so.  This will drain the swamp in which terrorism builds.  We can’t leave these people with no options other than “war and poppies” and expect good behavior.

    • Ideological Component:  We must combat the tribal Islamist ideology with countervailing ideas.  They must be convinced that murdering innocents is not consistent with true Islam.

 The ambassador expressed his hope that something like the “democratic dividend” proposed by Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar will come to pass.  The international community promised large sums of social aid to Afghanistan when President Karzai took office but most of it was not forthcoming. We can’t afford to repeat that mistake.

 Ambassador Richard Burt moderated the discussion and noted that Haqqani had lived “three lives,” first as a “prominent journalist,” then as a “distinguished academic,” currently on leave from Boston University, and now a public servant and adviser to two Pakistani prime ministers.  He observed that Pakistan “could not have a more articulate spokesman.”

 Taking moderator’s privilege, Burt opened the question and answer session by inquiring why the United States and the international community, which has had many occasions to be optimistic about a new democratic government in Pakistan only to have hopes dashed by a military coup, should believe this time will be different.

Haqqani said three things had changed.  First, the Pakistani elite now understands that the “winner-take-all” approach to politics does not work and they have learned to cooperate and compromise.  Second, the military itself now seems to understand that they can not save the system by taking over.  Third, there’s a broader awareness that “growth” does not in and of itself breed stability.  Together, these understandings have created a much stronger commitment to developing long term institutions.