U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Thinking about the Long Term

It’s Time for a New Smart Power Approach

To chart the deterioration of ties between Washington and Islamabad over the last two years, as well as the conundrums gnawing at Obama administration officials, consider the following: Despite Pakistan’s official designation as a “major non-NATO ally,” its egregious double game in Afghanistan is increasingly fueling talk in U.S. policy circles (here, here, here and here) about the necessity of “containing” it and even launching unilateral military raids into its tribal areas.*

Dampening the impulse for a tougher line, however, is the fear that the Pakistani state is in ever-present danger of collapse and vulnerable to a jihadi takeover.  A raft of new books, with such titles as Pakistan on the Brink and The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad , underscore the widely held view that the country is coming apart at the seams.  According David Sanger’s new book, Confront and Conceal, President Obama worries about Pakistan’s disintegration and the resulting dispersion of its nuclear stockpile.  Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta reiterated this concern the other week.

These policy crosscurrents were at display during the recent Republican presidential primary season: When Texas Governor Rick Perry urged a cut-off in aid, Michele Bachman, the Tea Party leader, admonished that the step would be counterproductive and “naïve” because “Pakistan is too nuclear to fail.” Continue reading


Pakistan: The White Stripe Withers

What would Jinnah think about what the country has become?

South Asia last week harkened back to the events of August 1947.  The 65th anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence brought forth the expected homage to the ideals that accompanied the dissolution of the British Raj.  Yet even amid the high-minded rhetoric, unanticipated developments in both countries also evoked the Partition’s darker chapters.  The jarring contradiction raises searching questions about just how well either nation measures up to the hopes articulated by their founding fathers. Continue reading

The Next Showdown in U.S.-Pakistan Relations

Fresh tests await the epically dysfunctional partnership

Last month’s agreement on NATO supply routes provided some hope that the two-year long free fall in U.S.-Pakistani relations was at an end.  But new serious tests await the epically dysfunctional partnership.

One sign of the tensions that remain is Islamabad’s mounting accusations that the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan has turned a blind eye to Pakistani Taliban fighters who launch attacks into Pakistan from sanctuaries in Afghanistan.  One such attack last month resulted in the deaths of at least 13 Pakistani soldiers, seven of whom were decapitated.

Given Islamabad’s egregiously duplicitous actions in Afghanistan, the complaints must strike many U.S. officials as highly ironic and perhaps even tinged with poetic justice. Continue reading

India Definitely Not Shining

Last week’s blackouts illuminate three fiascoes holding India back

The massive, cascading power outages that left the northern half of India in the dark for two days last week bring to mind a telling juxtaposition of events in mid-1998.  India had just concluded a momentous series of nuclear weapon tests, code-named “Operation Shakti” in reference to the Hindu concept of divine power.  The action unambiguously propelled the country into the small fraternity of nations bearing nuclear arms, causing Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to boast “We have a big bomb now.”  Yet at the same time, New Delhi was in the grip of sweltering summer heat and rolling blackouts.  At his wit’s end, the municipal official in charge of electricity declared the power situation to be beyond his control and in the hands of God.  He too, it seemed, was looking for some Shakti.

Fourteen years on, the continued development of its strategic arsenal is a source of national pride and part of India’s resume as a great power in the making.  In recent months, the country has tested a long-range nuclear missile capable of striking targets deep within China and is reportedly on the verge of producing a submarine-launched ballistic missile – feats that only a very elite club of countries can replicate.

Yet the enduring inability to provide adequate amounts of electricity to its growing economy is a constant source of embarrassment, negating whatever reputational gains the nuclear weapons program has achieved.  India may not be much of a factor at the Olympic Games in London, but it has now set a world-class record for the largest blackouts in human history – an exploit that is likely to stand for quite some time. The Economic Times, a leading business daily, succinctly summed things up with a front-page article titled “Superpower India: R.I.P.” while NDTV, a major news channel, broadcast an hour-long program called “Powerless Superpower: Are India’s superpower dreams a joke?”  Compounding the chagrin is that the country was forced to turn to tiny Bhutan, essentially an Indian protectorate, for emergency allotments of power.  Perhaps the only consolation – and this is not saying much at all– is that Pakistan’s power situation is no better off. Continue reading