U.S. Policies Aggravate Pakistan’s Dysfunction

By inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the White House, President Obama may only have wanted to signal America’s continued interest in the nuclear-armed country. But in Pakistan it reignited the belief that Uncle Sam simply cannot manage the world without Pakistan’s help.

For years, Pakistan’s policies have coincided with those of the U.S. only nominally. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is the main reason Mr. Obama had to reverse his decision of pulling out troops from that country. Pakistan’s development of battlefield nuclear weapons also runs contrary to U.S. plans for reducing nuclear proliferation. Diplomatic statements notwithstanding, the two sides have very different priorities.

Even after feting Pakistan’s democratically-elected leader, it is unlikely that Mr. Obama’s problems in Afghanistan or with Pakistan will end anytime soon. Although he continues to retain popularity at home, according to recent polls, Mr. Sharif has little control over foreign policy. Pakistan’s powerful military, currently headed by General Raheel Sharif (no relation to the Prime Minister) persists with its obsessive competition with neighboring India, which in turn shapes Pakistan’s worldview.

Mr. Obama lost the initiative in Afghanistan by relying on Pakistan’s ability to set up negotiations with the Taliban. He has spent the last seven years alternating between coaxing Pakistan’s leaders with economic and military assistance and delivering tough messages. The pretense of toughness has lacked credibility. Diplomacy and inducements have failed because they only reinforce the Pakistani view that the country’s geostrategic importance for the United States outweighs its resentment of negative Pakistani policies.

Pakistan has received $40 billion in US military and economic aid since 1950, of which $23 billion were given after 9/11 to strengthen the country’s resolve in fighting terrorism. But Pakistan’s focus has always been its rivalry with India, against whom it has initiated (and lost) three wars, using US equipment each time.

Americans have several reasons to mistrust Pakistan, which also accuses the U.S. of being a fair weather friend. Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons while promising the US it won’t go nuclear if it gets US assistance. Pakistan’s ongoing support of Jihadi terrorists is part of Pakistan’s effort to expand regional influence in competition with India, especially in Afghanistan and the disputed Kashmir region.

Over the last 13 years, many US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban and the Haqqani network trained, armed and supported by Pakistan. The recent surge in Taliban activity, manifested most blatantly during the Taliban occupation of the Afghan city of Kunduz, is attributed by US and Afghan officials to Pakistani support.

It seems that while officially Pakistan was helping US and Afghan officials in peace talks with the Taliban, its covert support was preparing the Taliban for reoccupying Afghanistan after the completion of the US withdrawal.

In 2009, Congress made aid to Pakistan conditional to specific criteria. The administration was required to certify to Congress that Pakistan was meeting American terms in fighting terrorism and diminishing the military’s role in politics. But for several years, instead of certifying that Pakistan was doing what it was expected, the Secretary of State has invoked the right to waive the conditions on grounds that continuing aid to Pakistan was necessary for US national security.

The Obama administration spent its first few years trying to convince Pakistan’s civil and military leaders of the virtues of changing their strategic calculus. In doing so, they praised Pakistan publicly and expressed optimism every time Pakistan took a positive step, however small.

Over the last two years, much optimism was expressed over Pakistan’s decision to militarily eliminate terrorist safe havens used by terrorists responsible for attacks inside Pakistan and against China. But now the administration appears to have woken up, once again, to the realization that Pakistan’s decision to act against terrorists does not extend to all jihadi groups.

During a recent visit to Islamabad, National Security Adviser Susan Rice reminded Pakistan of its unfulfilled commitments about helping with the Afghan peace process. She also asked Pakistan to act against the Haqqani network, which has been involved in several attacks on American targets including one on the U.S. embassy in Kabul in 2011.

Washington’s complaints against Pakistani support for the Haqqani network are not new. The former Chairman Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, who met with Pakistan’s army chief 26 times in an effort to ensure consistent Pakistani cooperation described the Haqqani network as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s security services at the end of his tenure.

If things have not changed since 2011, one cannot help but question the administration’s intermittent hopefulness about a turnaround in Pakistani policies.

Pakistan is the sixth largest nation in the world by population but only 26th by size of GDP on PPP basis and 42nd in nominal GDP. It has the world’s sixth largest nuclear arsenal and eighth largest army but performs poorly in most non-military indices. It ranks 146 out of 187 countries in the world on the Human Development Index, which measures health, standard of living, and education.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranks Pakistan’s primary education at 136 out of 144 countries. The country has one of the world’s lowest tax to GDP ratio, with international aid making up for low tax collection.

The military and intelligence services that dominate Pakistani national security decision-making have sacrificed their country’s progress and prosperity in their relentless pursuit of military parity with India. Forcing New Delhi’s hand on Kashmir has become more important than educating Pakistan’s children.

American readiness to offer aid has bred dependence and hubris. The US has ended up as an enabler of Pakistan’s dysfunction by reinforcing the belief of its elite that it is too important to fail or be neglected.

The intermittent cycles of optimism and pessimism about Pakistan have led to confusion in Mr. Obama’s Afghan policy. It is time to finally accept Pakistan’s lack of cooperation in Afghanistan as a given while making plans for that country. The US would help Afghanistan, and even Pakistan’s people, more by insisting consistently that Islamabad correct its course. Instead of telling Pakistan’s elite how important they are, it might be more useful to stop footing the bill for Pakistan’s failings.

A Bubble Called Pakistan

Barely 14 months after convincingly winning a general election, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government is being asked to resign amid threats of street protests. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canada-based Sunni cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri plan separate marches on Islamabad on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day. Several politicians and parties known for their close ties to Pakistan’s deep state, the ISI, have announced support for the anti-Sharif protests.

Sharif will most likely ride out this first wave of attack. He retains an absolute majority in parliament and, by most accounts, there is no appetite in the country for a military coup. But the protests will weaken Sharif and sap the elected government’s energies, diminishing its effectiveness. That is exactly how the wings of the previous civilian government led by Asif Zardari and Yusuf Raza Gilani were clipped. Then, the judiciary played a critical role in tying up elected leaders in knots though, this time, the judges have yet to get involved.

The military has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half its existence as an independent country. When it can’t govern directly, the military and its intelligence services still want to exert influence, especially over foreign and national security policies. At any given time, there are enough civilian politicians, media personalities or judges willing to do the military’s bidding for this manipulation to persist.

Currently, the military wants Sharif to curb his enthusiasm about normalising ties with India and turn away from Pakistan’s past policy of meddling in Afghanistan’s politics. It also wants an end to the treason trial of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

In the Pakistani military’s worldview, coup-making should not result in a trial for treason. The armed forces represent patriotism, even if their errors result in the loss of half the country’s territory, as happened in 1971 with the loss of Bangladesh. Civilians, on the other hand, can be judged traitors merely for advocating a different path forward for the country.

Ironically, the latest effort to destabilise an elected civilian government is taking place at a time when the Pakistan army is ostensibly waging war against jihadi terrorists in North Waziristan. The chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, has promised that the war will continue until all terrorist groups are eliminated. Usually, war unites political rivals, but there has been no effort by the military and its civilian political allies, or for that matter by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to overcome polarisation.

The current political chaos reminds me of a conversation I had with the then US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, soon after the covert American operation that resulted in discovering and killing Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.

Grossman, who was in Islamabad at the time of the May 1, 2011 operation, described the atmosphere in the Pakistani capital as “surreal”. He told me that he felt Pakistani officials and the rest of the world seemed to exist in “parallel universes”.

The veteran American diplomat noted that instead of realising the need to be apologetic about the world’s most wanted terrorist being found in their country, Pakistanis angrily protested America’s decision to kill bin Laden on Pakistani soil without informing Pakistani authorities.

As Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time, I could not tell Grossman that I agreed with him. But like many Pakistanis who worry about their country’s future, I have often noted my compatriots’ tendency to live in a world all our own.

The rest of the world is clearly concerned about the inadequacy of Pakistan’s efforts in eliminating the jihadis. The spectre of terrorism impacts Pakistan’s economy adversely and makes it difficult for Pakistanis to find jobs or travel abroad. Sri Lanka recently withdrew visa-on-arrival facility from Pakistani citizens, further reducing the number of countries where Pakistanis might travel without a visa.

But these adverse reports barely find mention in Pakistan’s media, which remains preoccupied with the shenanigans of people like Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri. Such is the media noise that Pakistanis are often kept ignorant of how the rest of the world looks at their country and remain confused about considering jihadist terrorism the principal threat to the country’s survival.

Pakistani leaders seem to prefer hyper-nationalist rhetoric and allegations of corruption against their rivals to an honest debate about the country’s loss of direction. Thus, Imran Khan and Qadri are not behaving differently from the way Nawaz Sharif and the lawyers’ movement acted against Zardari in the preceding five years.

Calls for a change of government, even if it is only a few months after its election, serve as a substitute for serious debate about how Pakistan may have lost its direction as a nation. There is virtual denial about real problems like rising extremism, increasing intolerance, widespread violence and the prospect of global isolation.

Denial leads to self-deception. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey recently found that even in Pakistan’s closest ally, China, only 30 per cent of those polled had a positive view of Pakistan. But the poll and its implications were barely discussed in the Pakistani media, which has been focused on the verbal duels between Sharif’s supporters and opponents. Parallel universes indeed!

What Barriers Prevent Reconciliation Between India and Pakistan?

The meeting between India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, may have opened an opportunity to mend a relationship fraught with violence and territorial dispute. Jeffrey Brown gets two views on the contentious relationship from Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S., and Sumit Ganguly of Indiana University.