Pakistan Gets Tough
Between You and Me
Pakistan’s parliament approved revised guidelines on Thursday meant to form the basis for a new security relationship with the US. Eagerly awaited by the US government, these guidelines will ultimately determine the future of US counter-terrorism in the AfPak region.
Among the 14 recommendations in total, according to the US-based private security firm, Stratfor, are a call to end foreign military attacks on and incursions into Pakistan, including an end to the use of Pakistani territory to transport arms to Afghanistan. All overt and covert action in Pakistan, as well as the establishment of foreign bases there, are also to be prohibited.
Most telling of all is parliament’s demand for an unconditional apology from the US, which to date, it has refused to give, for its botched attack near the Afghan border in November of last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Recognizing the tremendous damage that such attacks have had on the public’s willingness to not just accept, but to cooperate with, NATO troops in their war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and jihadist operatives in the region, the Pakistani government has spent much of its political capital on projecting the image of a Pakistan that will not accept violations of its sovereignty.
Perhaps surprising, this has generally not damaged Pakistan’s relationship with the US, in part, because, until its bold decision in November to cut NATO supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan, substantially, the government had been cooperating with the US, but also because the US needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the US, a point not lost on the Pakistani government and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), who frequently test this relationship.
All of this has been a long-time coming, and the US has no doubt been prepared for a significant shift in its relationship with Pakistan—i.e. the increased reliance on the Northern Distribution Network, a supply chain that runs through Latvia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, some pretty troubled countries to say the very least.
The conundrum for the US lies in the fact that, one, two years remain before NATO troops are to exit Afghanistan, leaving the US with no choice but to bend and flex to the demands of the Pakistani government, while still very much needing access to Pakistani soil; and two, any long-term security and economic agreement with Afghanistan post-troop withdrawal will not be complete without Pakistan’s involvement and cooperation, something that the Pakistani government is probably willing to offer once its relationship with Washington is patched up.
Taken together, we can see that the US is dependent on a number of unstable and corrupt countries in order to complete its mission in Afghanistan, whatever that has become today. Maintaining these relationships requires patience and resources, yes, but more troubling, some major compromises, most probably at the expense of achieving some of its security goals.
Where I think there is cause for optimism is in the possibility that Pakistan establishes security in the region, in cooperation with its immediate neighbors, without western boots on the ground. This would not only restore confidence in the Pakistani state on the part of the Pakistani people, hopefully prompting the state to aim higher, but it would also send a strong message to non-state actors wishing to destabilize the region that the future may be bleaker than they think, with or without the US.