The dysfunctional US-Pakistan Relationship
Previously published on June 13, 2009
With Pakistan recovering from the legacy of a military dictatorship, which failed to properly address the security threat created by extremists operating within its boarders, the world should expect the now fledgling democracy to experience some degree of violence as its new leadership tries to establish control over its territories. Although the media tends to over focus on hot spots where violence is more prominent, thus exaggerating the situation at times, Pakistan is facing a very real threat from accelerating violence, growing numbers of displaced residents and expanding Taliban support. Understanding how detrimental the threat is, however, may not be possible at this time. While the democratic leadership is being tested by waves of violence and subversive activity, the outcome is far from clear as the struggle has just begun.
As a strategic ally in the region, the United States has long supported Pakistan with various forms of aid, but today's interest in a Pakistan under siege, comes from its nuclear arsenal and its role in the Afghanistan war. The dangers of terrorists using chaos to breech military security in order to obtain a nuclear warhead are clear. Meanwhile, much of the logistic support for military operations in Afghanistan is routed through Pakistan. Should the Afghanistan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban and Al Qaeda be able to create enough disruptions to supply lines, they could seriously hinder efforts to eliminate these groups within Afghanistan and Pakistan while, more importantly, they could eventually find some way of stealing Pakistani nuclear weapons.
Truth be told, violence in Pakistan is a serious threat to the country's national security, while it also hurts the efforts of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, but the nation is hardly on the verge of collapse as Iraq and Afghanistan were nearing. Should this violence continue, however, civil unrest may well be reignited, resulting in further deterioration of national security while giving militants the ability to expand operations in Pakistani territory. Looking back at the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, further incidences with India could again force Pakistan to divert greater military resources to the Pakistani/Indian border. Unfortunately, distractions from other pressing issues and greater violence would result in a rapidly deteriorating situation.
Although there is not a clear understanding of how insurgent violence in Pakistan will play out, it is clear the international community must take greater notice of the situation. Because the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan directly influences the outcome in Afghanistan, there is a good opportunity to restabilize both fledging democracies as the US military shifts focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. On the other hand, should the international community fail to provide proper support to Pakistan at some pivotal juncture, there is also great potential for two failed states that will become havens for terrorists, one of which has several nuclear weapons within its territory.
Moreover, the scenes of violence coming out of Pakistan represent an acceleration of militant activity that is testing the strength of a new democracy. There cannot be a clear picture of the situation, because we cannot be certain of the strength of the insurgents nor can we yet know the new government's ability to address the violence. On the other hand, we do know the consequences can be very detrimental to the people of Pakistan, the region, and the world should this new government fail to suppress that violence. Moreover, only as the scenes unfold will we have a clearer picture that should tell us how the international community must respond.