By Nancy Birdall for Foreign Policy
In the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, Stanford political scientist Stephen Krasner claims that “current U.S. policy toward Pakistan has failed” and recommends that the United States take a radically different approach: credibly threaten to sever all forms of cooperation, including all U.S. aid – military and civilian – to force Pakistan into cooperating with the United States on security matters. Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall responds.
Stephen Krasner (“Talk Tough to Pakistan: How to End Islamabad’s Defiance,” Jan/Feb 2012) wants to change the Pakistani government’s behavior. He argues that its failure to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan and on terrorism is not due to its weakness as a state. Instead, it is a rational response of Pakistan’s military leadership, whose priority is to defend itself against India – with a nuclear deterrent and support for terrorists and the Afghan Taliban. Therefore, the only way the United States can win cooperation from Pakistan is to threaten “malign neglect”- cut off military and civilian assistance, sever intelligence cooperation, maintain and possibly escalate drone strikes and initiate unilateral cross-border raids. If that isn’t enough, then the U.S. could move on to “active isolation” — declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, making it a pariah, and impose sanctions.
If only it were this easy. Krasner fails to mention that the U.S. has tried this approach before. In the 1990s it cut off military and civilian assistance to Pakistan and imposed sanctions in an effort to dissuade Pakistan from developing a nuclear capability. We all know how that story ended. But let’s suppose this time the threats or the follow-through worked and brought the military and intelligence establishment to heel in Pakistan. Let’s suppose the United States got what it wanted on the security front – helping assure a timely U.S and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Would that solve the problem Pakistan poses for America’s security in the long run? No.
What Krasner doesn’t say is that the U.S. wants something more than compliance from Pakistan’s military and intelligence communities with its immediate security needs. The U.S. wants a capable and stable civilian government that plays by the rules of the international community. It wants a democratic state that would not abuse and misuse its nuclear capability and that would find its way to peaceful relations with India.
In other words the U.S. has a long-run vision for Pakistan, very much in its own interests, as well as a set of short-term demands. In the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (known as Kerry-Lugar Berman, or KLB) Congress recognized the resulting need for a two-track approach. That legislation made U.S. security assistance (not actually authorized in the legislation) conditional on Pakistani cooperation on security matters. But its fundamental purpose, and the money it authorized for civilian aid, was the rebuilding of a serious partnership with the civilian government and the people of Pakistan. With KLB as the framework, since 2009 the Obama Administration has engaged fully with the civilian government and with civil society and private sector leaders in Pakistan on a range of issues — energy, water, agriculture, macroeconomic issues, private investment and trade.
In short, the purpose of U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan is to help build a better state. It is not to bribe or reward the “government” (neither the military nor the civilian leadership). Withholding military aid would likely not punish the military anyway. It would, however, reduce the resources available to the civilian government, since the evidence is that the military can get what it wants from the government’s overall available resources. And withholding civilian aid obviously would not punish the military. It would, however, take away a modest tool of America – investing to educate kids, create jobs, and strengthen civil society and representative institutions and thus give Pakistan a better shot at becoming a stable, prosperous and democratic country in the long term.
There are of course real questions about the effectiveness of U.S engagement with the civilian government – with aid and dialogue – given the prevailing suspicion there of U.S. motives, the inherent difficulties of operating in a complex and insecure environment, and the bureaucratic shortcomings of the U.S. aid system itself. But then those are reasons to put relatively more emphasis on other forms of engagement: trade, investment, and encouraging the normalization of relations with India. They do not warrant bullying the weak civilian government that the U.S. wants to strengthen.
Krasner begins and ends his article by invoking the testimony of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during his last appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Krasner is right in pointing out that Mullen was critical of Pakistan’s role in supporting extremist organizations and the need to get tough with Pakistan. Yet, Krasner fails to mention the conclusion Mullen reached in his statement. Mullen recognized that the U.S. has a variety of objectives in Pakistan and the region, and that by focusing too intensely on short term interests, the U.S. will end up short-changing itself over the long haul: “We must also move beyond counter-terrorism to address long-term foundations of Pakistan’s success – to help the Pakistanis find realistic and productive ways to achieve their aspirations of prosperity and security.” Mullen concludes, “Isolating the people of Pakistan from the world right now would be counter-productive.”
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, DC based think tank.