Despite a formal alliance between Pakistan and the United States, the interests of the two governments are often in perfect contradiction. Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, has been accused by Mike Mullen of supporting the jihadist terror cell Haqqani in its October attack on the American embassy in Kabul. Furthermore, Osama bin Laden managed to hide for an extended period of time in the medium-sized city of Abbottabad, mere blocks from a renowned Pakistani military academy. Upon his death, the Pakistani military chose to focus solely on the perceived breach of sovereignty by the US, effectively brushing aside its own deficiencies and the impurities inherent in its clandestine system of unsavory partnerships. In the words of Harvard Fellow Aqil Shah, Pakistan has pursued a “pick and choose approach to counterterrorism,” fighting the Pakistani Taliban, but providing a safe haven for the Afghan Taliban, and allowing other terror cells, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, to exist openly within its borders. Given the already murky allegiances of the Pakistani military, it’s no wonder that the decision by its leaders to scale back its antiterrorism cooperation with the United States led the US government to drastically cut military aid to Pakistan twice in 2011.
This move by the American government, however, may have been long overdue. Several experts, including political scientist Seth G. Jones and Pakistan expert Parag Khanna, had already suggested cutting military aid to Pakistan while maintaining a line of support to the civilian government. This hypothetical aid program was seen by some as a less harmful and more transparent way of assuring that drone strikes in Pakistan were tolerated, NATO supply routes were kept open, and, in general, that Pakistan remained complicit with American goals, even if to a limited extent.
Now, unfortunately, as the lines between Pakistan’s civilian government and military blur, the United States is quickly losing this option to fund one part of the Pakistani government over another. While the military has shown to have less appetite for a coup than was originally suspected, there is much speculation that the civilian government is attempting to martyr itself for political gain. Moreover, the Pakistani Supreme Court is effectively attacking Prime Minister Gilani, threatening him with contempt charges. Even if the civilian government endures until the next election cycle, Imran Khan, the most popular opposition candidate for the prime minister position, is heavily tied to the interests of the Pakistani military.
As the gulf between Pakistan’s leadership circles closes, the US government must modify its foreign policy to reflect the Pakistani government’s shifting power dynamic. Soon US policy may need to focus on appeasing primarily military leaders rather than civilian ones. Given the level of corruption, complicity with terror, and general ineptitude that the Pakistani military and the ISI have displayed, aiding Pakistan in a feigned mission to fight the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani, and other terror networks which it has little interest in fighting, is a self-destructive extravagance. Instead, the United States and Pakistan should, in the words of Jeffrey Goldberg, “ventilate differences rather than paper them over,” which will likely mean recognizing and focusing almost exclusively on the one area of mutual interest: destroying the Pakistani Taliban. It is through fighting this specific faction of terror that both nations can find that ever-elusive set of aligned interests. Incentivizing Pakistan to fight its de facto allies rather than their common enemies, after all, had been the root source of the Pakistani treachery that is currently tearing apart US-Pakistan relations. Involving Pakistan in fighting elements with which it has no true quarrel has often proved ineffective and at times counterproductive.
A specific focus of the US-Pakistan partnership on the destruction of the Pakistani Taliban, however, would avoid such a situation of misaligned interests. This program would further serve US goals by bolstering Pakistani state control over its territories, thus avoiding a situation where terror cells can exist in a governmental vacuum, or worse, a situation where insurgents are able to take control of pieces of Pakistan’s overdeveloped weapons arsenal.
Supplemental aid for Pakistani civilian projects may still be an option for the United States. However, in a nation increasingly controlled by the military, such funds are likely to be misappropriated by the Pakistani government and, thus, as suggested by Parag Khanna, American funds must be allocated for certain, specified projects and be conditionalized on extreme transparency. Otherwise, if we fail to correctly reallocate our support funds or to take steps to realign our relationship with a rapidly changing Pakistan, US monetary aid could once again fund the whims of the next Pakistani terror cell.
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