Understanding the Dysfunctional Nature of the US-Pakistani Relationship
Previously published on Jun 16, 2011
The true value of any relationship is learned in times of need. The United States needs Pakistan to ensure its long-term global security interests; whereas, Pakistan needs American support for its long-term survival. Unfortunately, the bond between the two states hardly compliments the significance of the alliance. Not only has a spotty history of underhandedness by both parties always hurt US-Pakistani relations, the need to address domestic politics adds to already existing tensions. Looking at some major points of contention, the dysfunctional elements of the US-Pakistani relationship can be understood.
Until recently, Pakistan was a state governed by its powerful military while it served American interests by maintaining the stability of a major territory in an insecure region. Today, it is a fledgling democracy constantly undermined by its military's blind ambitions. That said, whether a military dictatorship or democracy, the treat from globalized terrorists demands a greater role for Pakistan in global affairs. Unfortunately, Pakistan and its unsteady neighbor Afghanistan have failed to fulfill their global roles while they can barely maintain the stability we all need, despite tremendous amounts of military aid. Due to this realty, a very serious risk of these two nations collapsing into an intelligence dead zone and/or safe haven for terrorists at the very least exists. It is this fear that drives countries like the US to heavily support these territories.
In all rights, the term sovereignty only loosely applies to these nations, especially Afghanistan, as both countries could collapse absent foreign support. Meanwhile, the evolving danger of the various Taliban groups and the Al Qaeda network is a far more critical threat for Pakistan and Afghanistan than for the US. It is, therefore, more in the interests of these parties to cooperate with outsiders while any failure on behalf of Pakistan to uphold US interests should be an immediate concern for all Pakistanis. Unfortunately, the fact the US takes an interest in Pakistan largely due to terrorism means elements within Pakistan have every reason to sustain a certain level of terrorist activities throughout the region. In fact, the often insubordinate Pakistani military and intelligence service, the ISI, continue to count India, a significant US ally, among their most pressing national security threats.
It is completely irrational that Pakistan and Afghanistan, which rely far too heavily on international support, would dare act out against their patrons, yet Afghan President Hamid Karzai outright threatens NATO security forces while the Pakistani leadership has hurt Coalition efforts in Afghanistan by endangering fuel and supply trucks in 2010 as one example. They also constantly criticize highly effective drone strikes that help their military fight insurgents. Furthermore, when Osama Bin Laden was killed in April, 2011, celebration over the end of a looming threat quickly made way to headlines chronicling Pakistan's incompetence, corruption, and complacency. Considering the symbol Bin Laden had become, the fact he was discovered deep within Pakistan only highlighted the overall shortcomings of Pakistan.
In response, citizens and the Pakistani parliament condemned the US for violating their sovereignty, without regard to how much the Pakistanis have to lose should the International Community abandon their front. Despite their ongoing efforts in this war on terrorism, the ISI and other elements of the Pakistani government continue to undermine counterterrorism efforts in order to maintain funds for their defense against India. In fact, only after a democratic leadership was established did Pakistan shift its focus toward terrorism. This means US interests and the need to eliminate threats from insurgents and/or terrorists will continue to come second. That said, Pakistan is slowly transforming into a sovereign power that might someday serve as a valuable partner while American principles support the idea of sovereignty for all legitimate governments, no matter their strength or needs.
Accordingly, the United States and the Pakistani military need to show greater respect for the sovereignty of the democratically elected Pakistani government. After all, the democratization of Pakistan requires greater accountability. Not only should the Pakistani People show anger at their government for failing to arrest Bin Laden, especially the covert elements that need to be uncovered, they must bare ill-feelings toward US leadership for disrespecting their sovereignty. Although the US had no real choice, domestic politics demand leaders must be held accountable for Bin Laden's presence in Pakistan and the US being allowed to disrespect Pakistan's authority; otherwise, Pakistan can never be a democracy or a credible partner.