This article originally appeared in Newsweek Pakistan in their June 10, 2011 edition
For the US, the elimination of Osama bin Laden has been a major strategic and political milestone. For Pakistan, the discovery of his final hideout in the cantonment area of Abbottabad has been an embarrassment. The immediate result has been further deterioration in relations between our governments, and heightened distrust among our people. But how this event shapes our future relationship depends on the wisdom and ability of both sides to create a new compact, one that addresses the core issues driving our cooperation—and conflicts.
Two days after 9/11, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pledged “unstinting support” for the U.S. against Al Qaeda and those who harbor it. Sanctions imposed on Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program were lifted, and military and economic aid resumed. An important element of the agreement was a shared understanding that the U.S. would not deploy combat troops on Pakistani soil because Pakistan’s security forces would do the job for them. This tacit arrangement implied that Pakistan would retaliate against all Al Qaeda and Taliban forces operating from within their country against U.S. forces at war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Over the past 10 years, this compact has broken down. Despite enormous effort, sacrifice, and bravery on the part of Pakistan’s security forces against key Al Qaeda leaders and Taliban forces that target us both, Pakistan has done little to move against other groups—the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar’s leadership—it sees as threats only to the United States. For its part, the U.S. raid to capture or kill bin Laden was a combat operation on Pakistan’s sovereign territory, not disclosed in advance to Pakistan. This breach of trust has led in recent weeks to a further breakdown in bilateral relations.
From Pakistan’s point of view, it has paid a high price for cooperation with the United States. Internal security concerns have increased greatly since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The many Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders and supporters who fled to Pakistan’s tribal areas, where local Taliban leaders and madrassahs gave them refuge, have now gained strength and pose an existential threat to Pakistan. These elements helped give birth to the Pakistani insurgency, but they do not—at least for the time being—participate in targeting the Pakistani state in exchange for the protection they apparently receive from the military.
As the U.S. prepares to leave Afghanistan by 2014, one of Pakistan’s greatest fears is that rival India will gain influence there, surrounding Pakistan with unfriendly states. Facing these dual risks, Pakistani military and civilian leaders want to maintain some influence over events and players in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, who would provide a counterpoint to Northern Alliance ethnic groups supported by India.
Yet despite some conflicting interests in Afghanistan, neither the U.S. nor Pakistan wants militant groups to take over in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Such a takeover could turn Pakistan into a jihadist state. Both the U.S. and Pakistan want to destroy Al Qaeda. We need each other’s cooperation to achieve this paramount goal. The challenge now is to mend our partnership in the interests of both nations. We need a new compact that addresses mutual concerns, and this should include the following elements:
* The U.S. civilian aid program should continue in partnership with Pakistan’s civil society. Its goals are to strengthen Pakistan’s democracy, empower its middle class, and meet the basic needs of Pakistan’s people.
* The two governments should strengthen mutual government accountability, rule of law, and transparency through deeper engagement with civil society leaders in both countries. A key result of this would be more private investment and employment opportunities in Pakistan.
* The U.S. and Pakistani military and security services should explicitly define areas of cooperation with regard to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups operating in and from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and make that framework public.
* Recognizing the concerns that Pakistan has raised about its sovereignty, the U.S. should give assurances that no U.S. combat troops will enter Pakistan without Pakistan’s agreement.
* The issue of drone strikes must be resolved in a way that recognizes both Pakistani sovereignty and the national-security threat that extremists operating in northern Pakistan pose to the U.S. and NATO.
* The U.S. should give firm assurances that it will not threaten Pakistan’s nuclear program. Sen. John Kerry made just that assurance while in Islamabad recently. Pakistan’s military should work closely with the U.S. to assure the devices are secure from seizure by extremists or others.
* In the longer term, U.S.-Pakistan military cooperation should focus on building an effective force against extremist threats to both countries and containing a costly and dangerous nuclear arms race that diverts valuable resources from human development.
* The U.S. should continue to encourage diplomatic dialogue, security and trade agreements between India and Pakistan.
The U.S. has real and significant national-security differences with Pakistan, but it also has strong complementary interests in Pakistan’s security and development. A new understanding, based on frank and constructive efforts to deal with our differences and build on common ground is the only realistic way forward in the interest of our people and regional security.
Assertions and opinions in this Policy Insight are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.