US-Pakistan relations have taken a nose dive following the May 2 US military operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. US patience with Pakistan is wearing thin, as evidenced by remarks US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made following meetings with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad on Friday.
Clinton called on Pakistan to take decisive action against the terrorist networks on its soil and lamented that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories continued to circulate in the country despite the fact that the “US has tried to be a very good friend to Pakistan.”
Clinton’s remarks make clear that the onus is on Pakistan to demonstrate it is committed to working more closely with the US in targeting terrorists and in bringing peace to Afghanistan. The situation demands that Pakistan make changes to its counter-terrorism policies and end its ambiguity toward Islamist militancy.
It is the military’s policy of supporting terrorists that attack India and its nebulous position toward the Taliban that led to circumstances in which the world’s most wanted terrorist could reside safely under the nose of the military for six years. Al-Qaeda has links to the Taliban and to terrorists that target India. Thus Pakistan’s soft stance toward these groups ends up facilitating al-Qaeda and its agenda. Indeed, bin Laden was apparently considering seeking a deal with Pakistan’s military leadership to ensure his safety in the country. This speaks volumes about the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the Pakistan military’s dual policies on terrorism.
The real tragedy is that Pakistan’s hesitance to adopt a comprehensive, full-throttled fight against terrorism within its borders is jeopardising its own future — cost that Pakistan is now bearing for its years of support, training, and financing of terrorist groups it hoped would stay focused on India. As renowned Pakistani author Imtiaz Gul noted in a recent article, the attack on Mehran naval base “underscores the extended reach of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, as well as the manner in which tactics and tools once used by groups in the thrall of the Pakistani state are increasingly being turned against it.”
The siege of the naval base once again has raised international concern about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The attackers apparently had detailed knowledge of the base, which means there is a high likelihood that base personnel were involved in the plot. This raises questions about the extent to which the Pakistan military may already be compromised by its links to militants and whether there are an increasing number of lower-level officers with sympathies toward Islamist militants.
The US should demand that Pakistan’s military leadership take active steps to break all ties between the security services and militant groups to ward off the possibility of nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands. The problem is, the US does not have a good window into the thinking and predispositions of the lower and mid-level officer corps. And Pakistan’s military leadership will always be motivated to downplay the threat and maintain an outward appearance of unity and discipline within the ranks.
Message Not Received
The US has sought to address Pakistani complaints about the relationship over the last two years. The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 was aimed at addressing Pakistani criticism that the US had provided too little economic aid to the country. It authorized $1.5 billion in annual economic aid over a five-year period.
When the Pakistan military complained it lacked the resources and capability to address militant safe havens in its border areas, the US initiated the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund to expedite funding for training and equipment to bolster Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts.
When Pakistan complained that the US focused solely on its short-term counterterrorism agenda without attention to Pakistani concerns, the US agreed to establish a Strategic Dialogue to broaden engagement between the two countries and to demonstrate US interest in a long-term partnership.
Washington has done its best to try to meet Islamabad half way. Now, it’s time for Pakistani officials to show they also value the partnership and are ready to set their own house in order in dealing with the terrorist threat.
Pakistani officials need to issue more statements like that by Prime Minister Gilani following Wednesday’s meeting of the Defense Committee of the Cabinet, in which he called on citizens to cooperate with the government in clamping down on terrorists. Statements like this help build a national consensus against terrorism. Too often in the past Pakistan’s leaders have found it easier to blame US policies for the terrorist scourge, rather than acknowledge and deal with their own shortcomings.
While the US clearly has an interest in doing everything possible to remain positively engaged with Pakistan, the ball is now in Islamabad’s court. Only a fundamental reassessment by the Pakistan security establishment of its policies in dealing with Islamist militancy and concrete steps aimed at breaking intelligence relationships with terrorist groups will help restore balance in Pakistan and recoup US-Pakistan ties.
Lisa Curtis is a Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Deccan Chronicle