By Michael Krepon – Negotiations over the cost of hauling freight from Karachi port to
Afghanistan and the wording of a statement of regret or apology over Pakistani
deaths at a border clash last November have become demeaning to everyone
involved. Patching up these contentious issues will have lasting benefit
only if a much larger impasse between Pakistan and the United States can somehow
be bridged. The central impasse currently afflicting bilateral relations
is over a future composition of an Afghan government.
At the rhetorical level, Washington and Islamabad say they want
the same outcome in Afghanistan, but at the operational level, the two sides
are backing very different horses. Pakistan’s military and intelligence
services are betting on groups and individuals that most Afghans, Washington,
and other Afghan stakeholders will find unacceptable. Washington, NATO, and
India are investing in the Afghan National Army and in a government that can
prevent the recapture of Kabul by Taliban fighters. Rawalpindi is likely to
oppose a future Afghan government that is friendlier to India than to Pakistan.
The tactics employed by Rawalpindi increase Pakistan’s continued
isolation and decline. The tactics employed by Washington increase the
likelihood of its estrangement with Pakistan. As long as current policies
remain fixed, new points of contention seem inevitable between Pakistan, its
neighbors, and the United States.
Washington is repeating one of the mistakes of the Vietnam War,
thinking that an expansion of the battlefield across an international border
could facilitate a successful result. This tactic is proving to be as unsuccessful
with drones as with F-4 fighter aircraft. Drone strikes have failed to
influence an Afghan settlement while succeeding in poisoning US-Pakistan
relations. Nonetheless, they are likely to continue if prompted by deadly
attacks carried out by the Afghan Taliban from safe havens in Pakistan.
This vicious circle will be hard to break as long as Washington measures the
success of drone strikes numerically rather than politically, and as long as
target lists do not shrink. An instrument that warrants use only in exceptional
circumstances has become almost commonplace.
Rawalpindi also is repeating painful errors. In seeking to secure
a friendly government on its western border, Pakistan’s fortunes have plummeted
in every way – economically, internally, and externally. The problem lies
not with seeking strong ties with Afghanistan, but with the means chosen to
achieve this objective. Rawalpindi has good reasons to seek a friendly
neighbor to the west, especially as ties with India remain problematic, and
while Iran might someday seek to exploit Pakistan’s religious divisions.
Pakistan would face intolerable security challenges if Afghanistan, Iran, India, and the
United States were all hostile to Pakistan. No other country, besides
Iraq, has suffered more incidents of mass casualty attacks over the past five
years than Pakistan. These incidents could grow exponentially if tables
were turned, and if Pakistan found itself on the receiving end of
destabilization efforts originating from Afghanistan.
The means chosen to prevent these nightmares have instead brought
them closer to realization. Pakistan’s decline over the past quarter
century can be directly linked to its policies and its allies in
Afghanistan. Yes, outsiders have contributed mightily to Pakistan’s woes,
starting with the United States, but outsiders didn’t embrace the Taliban, and
outsiders didn’t redirect jihadist tactics against India after the Soviets
departed Afghanistan. The US-Pakistan partnership began to dissolve with this
crucial decision to settle scores in Kashmir. And then Rawalpindi’s
investments in Afghanistan turned to dust when the Taliban leadership offered a
safe haven for al Qaeda and spurned Pakistan’s advice. A new generation
of Afghan Taliban leaders may well prove to be similarly
grief has come to Pakistan from the assumption that a friendly neighbor is
required in the east but can never be found in the west. Some in India no doubt
harbor the desire to use Afghanistan as a springboard to cause Pakistan’s
demise, but sensible leaders in New Delhi have reasonably concluded that
Pakistan’s demise would impair Indian security and imperil its economic growth.
The advent of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent has served to reinforce the territorial
status quo. The threat of clashes between India and Pakistan remains, triggered
only by spectacular acts of violence on Indian soil that originate from
United States and Pakistan have made poor choices and have suffered the
consequences. A partnership re-forged
to hasten the Soviet exit from Afghanistan has again fallen on hard
times. The United States erred in turning away from Afghanistan after Soviet
troops went home, and Pakistan’s leaders erred in believing that their
country’s security depended on partnering with the Taliban. These errors
have been compounded over the past decade. The US economy is big enough
to withstand very bad decisions. Pakistan’s economy is not.
Photo Credit: State Department photo by Michael Gross, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/pix/2009a/05/123037.htm