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


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

Who’s Sorry Now?

The agreement reopening NATO supply routes lays bare Pakistan’s strategic isolation.  But is anyone in Islamabad paying attention?

Some are spinning last week’s deal ending Pakistan’s seven-month closure of key NATO supply routes into Afghanistan as a triumph of Islamabad’s resolve.  The reverse is much closer to the mark, however.  Pakistan overplayed its hand in this affair, underscoring once again just how strategically isolated it has become.  The key issue is whether the country’s security managers have learned anything from the episode. Continue reading

The “Smart Power” Approach toward Pakistan Needs Work

Winning over Pakistani hearts and minds is proving difficult

Photo credit: The Associated Press

Two new reports provide further insight into the breakdown of U.S.-Pakistan relations.  The first, put out by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, charts the growing hostility of Pakistani public opinion toward the United States.  The second, issued by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a respected non-governmental organization, argues that the record level of military and civilian assistance the U.S. provides Pakistan has failed to deliver much in the way of counter-terrorism dividends or help advance the country’s fragile democratic transition.  Taken together, both call into question the implementation of the Obama administration’s “smart power” approach toward Pakistan, which was suppose to balance the use of military force with the tools of diplomacy and development. Continue reading

Blood Feud in Islamabad Complicates U.S.-Pakistan Relations

UPDATE (June 27): The Pakistani Supreme Court today ordered the new Prime Minister Ashraf to reopen a corruption case against President Zardari by July 12.  With Ashraf already indicating that he will decline, the likelihood of continued political upheaval grows.

A long summer of political turmoil has begun that makes harder the search for a new equilibrium with Washington

Pakistan has a new prime minister, but for how long?

A tale of two capital cities in the grip of political uncertainty unfolded in South Asia last week.   Islamabad was the scene of a fast-paced soap opera that throws into further doubt the future of the democratization process and complicates efforts to repair the breakdown of U.S.-Pakistan relations.  Meanwhile in New Delhi, simmering tensions within the coalition government erupted into open revolt, further constraining decision-making at a time when the United States in seeking to draw closer strategically.

This post will focus on the Pakistani case, the more acute of the two; a subsequent post will deal with the political tussles in India, which might ultimately prove to be cathartic. Continue reading

Time to Cool the Rhetoric on Pakistan

However justified, the public berating of Islamabad has become counterproductive

The comments made by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta during his swing through South Asia last week once again raise the question of how coordinated the Obama administration’s regional policy is.  An earlier post flagged this issue two months ago by noting the curious timing of Washington’s decision to offer a large bounty for the arrest or capture of Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, a major jihadi leader allowed to live in plain sight in Pakistan. Continue reading

A Tough Week for Pakistani Diplomacy

Events lay bare just how strategically isolated Islamabad has become

As my last post noted, the events of the past week show that New Delhi is sitting pretty diplomatically, being courted ardently by both Washington and Beijing.  Conversely, they also laid bare just how strategically isolated Islamabad has become.

Pakistan’s most recent troubles began with President Obama giving President Asif Ali Zardari the cold shoulder at the NATO summit in Chicago three weeks ago.  Since then Washington has dramatically ramped up its campaign of drone attacks in the country’s tribal areas, which last week killed Al Qaeda’s second in command in North Warizistan.  Officials in Islamabad publicly denounce the strikes as violating the country’s sovereignty and they have helped drive a marked increase in anti-American sentiment.  Yet U.S. officials reportedly believe that they have very little to lose by defying Pakistani sensitivities. Continue reading