Michael A. Walsh
NY Post, July 11, 2011


…[A] war of wills is being waged halfway around the world in Pakistan. In response to Pakistani intransigence and duplicity—especially by the country’s army and intelligence agency, the ISI—America is withholding some $800 million in aid, including $300 million earmarked for counterinsurgency ops against Islamic radicals.

The cuts were announced yesterday by White House chief of staff Bill Daley, as America reassesses its cooperative relationship with Pakistan in the War on Terror. Pakistani authorities, Daley said, have “taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid which we were giving to their military.”

One step was ordering the expulsion of 120 US military advisers, mostly Special Forces, in May.

In a perfect world, Pakistan would richly deserve losing all its US aid. The idea that Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, could be “hiding out” in Abbottabad—the country’s West Point, a stone’s throw from the capital, Islamabad—without at least semi-official protection never passed the laugh test.

Elements in the Pakistani hierarchy have also tipped off Taliban terrorists operating inside the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan; on several occasions, America has provided coordinates of bomb-making factories, but when Pakistani troops showed up, the bombers had “mysteriously” fled.

To add insult to injury, on Friday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen publicly accused Islamabad of sanctioning the torture and murder of respected journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who had been covering Islamist penetration of the military.

Predictably, the Pakistanis are furious. In the Guardian, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan called Mullen’s words “extremely irresponsible and unfortunate,” and threatened that “this statement will create problems and difficulties for the bilateral relations between Pakistan and America.”

To the Pakistanis, the aid pullback is reminiscent of their abortive 1980s purchase of 28 F-16 fighter jets, a sale that was eventually canceled by law in the wake of Pakistani nuclear proliferation.

A common Pakistani plaint is that America is an untrustworthy ally, always ready to use Pakistan for its own purposes and then abandon the country to its fate when it loses interest—as it did after the Soviets left Afghanistan. There’s some truth to that.

But Pakistan is an even less reliable ally to us than we are to them. Re-embraced by the Bush administration after 9/11, the country gets $2 billion annually from Uncle Sam to play both sides of the street in our war against al Qaeda and the Taliban. And yesterday, the Pakistanis played the China card, too.

“This tightening of US military aid was expected,” a senior Pakistani official told CBS News. “That’s where our long-term relations with China will help to meet this gap.” Pakistan and China jointly produce the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, and Pakistan is negotiating to buy as many as six submarines from China.

That’s smart. China, our largest creditor, holds the strings of the US economy, and America must tread gingerly.

What’s more, as Pakistan well knows, America has to do business with all sorts of unsavory semi-allies—Saudi Arabia being a good example. And American supply lines to Afghanistan are partly dependent on Pakistani cooperation, although rerouting them would be more a matter of logistics and expense than of actual feasibility.

The real question: Does the Obama administration have a Plan B if relations worsen? A nuclear-armed Pakistan, heavily penetrated by Islamists, with its nose out of joint about its treatment by the United States, is not something anybody wishes to see. Too often in that part of the world, emotion—not reason—rules the day.

But any serious Pakistan policy has to start with several sober realizations. One is that Pakistan always sees itself the aggrieved party in a dispute, whether it’s dealing with its historic enemy, India, or anybody else. There’s just no pleasing some countries.

Another is the essential nature of the Pakistani army, which is concerned less with the country’s survival than its own. It more closely resembles the Mexican drug cartels than a traditional military, happy to see its host state kept weak but alive so it can play its dangerous double game with the West.

Let’s hope the Obama administration understands this, and has a long-range plan for dealing with Pakistan based on something other than pique.

Let’s also hope that Pakistan gets the message and acts accordingly.


Ashley J. Tellis

National Interest, June 28, 2011


The daring raid that killed Osama Bin Laden marked a turning point not only in U.S-Pakistan ties but also in power relations within Pakistan. Most observers have focused on the first, but have failed to understand how worsening civil-military relations in Pakistan have contributed to the recent meltdown between Washington and Islamabad.

President Obama’s decision to launch Operation Neptune Spear without informing Pakistan exploded the myth of the U.S.-Pakistani “strategic partnership.” The discovery of Bin Laden close to the Pakistani Military Academy in Abbotabad—almost certainly protected by elements of its “deep state”—marked Pakistan as a “frenemy” rather than the “ally” it regularly claimed to be.

The consequent upsurge in American resentment, in turn, reinforced the Pakistani military view of Washington as a formidable but fickle friend. This peculiar marriage of convenience, where America was minimally appeased as long as the generals were well compensated and their interests protected, was torn asunder by the events of May 2, 2011. But what escalated the crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations since that day was something unanticipated: the army’s plummeting credibility in the eyes of its own populace.

The shock that the United States could discover Bin Laden from thousands of miles away in a cantonment town, when he was overlooked by the military and its powerful intelligence services, confronted the Pakistani public with one of two possibilities: either their army was malicious, harboring an enemy whose allies were ravaging Pakistan every day, or it was incompetent, incapable of its discharging its principal task of protecting the nation.

In either case, the Bin Laden affair raised the fundamental question of why such a military was offered preferential access to the public trough given its debilitating failures. The ease with which homegrown insurgents were able to attack a major Pakistani naval base, even as the intelligence services, for all their fecklessness, were widely suspected of torturing and killing a prominent Pakistani journalist who had uncovered connections between the deep state and extremists, filled the Pakistani populace with dismay and revulsion.

Not since the disastrous Kargil war of 1999 has the army’s reputation fallen so low. In a praetorian state, a loss of credibility is a threat to survival—and, hence, the Pakistani army struck back resolutely and early.

In the immediate aftermath of the Bin Laden raid, it looked like Pakistan might have finally seized a moment for introspection. In his phone conversation with President Obama, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, struck exactly the right note, recognizing correctly that Bin Laden’s death was a victory for both the United States and Pakistan. Given the disasters Islamist radicals have wreaked in Pakistan, his elimination—however achieved—was welcome news and the main task for both countries was to resolutely pursue the antiterrorism campaign because, as Zardari later put it, “the forces of modernity and moderation remain under serious threat.”

Unfortunately for Zardari, Rawalpindi—the headquarters of the Pakistani military—did not get the memo. Within days of his conversation with Obama, the army began hounding the civilian government for betraying the national interest by weakly opposing American military action after first having liberally issued visas to U.S. operatives that allegedly made the intrusion both inevitable and easy.

Before long, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani would be threatening the United States with a military response in the event of another similar operation, while defending the honor of the military and the intelligence services…

A strong civilian government might have used this moment to demand the resignation of the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff and the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), holding them accountable for their failures. In Pakistan, however, the opposite happened: in a particularly galling moment, some civilian politicians close to the army actually called on Zardari and Gilani to resign on the grounds that the Bin Laden episode demonstrated that their management of national security—on which they exercise no oversight, let alone control—was found wanting!…

While recent Pakistani actions, such as the arrest of U.S. informants who supported the Bin Laden mission, the compromise of operations targeting facilities that produce improvised explosive devices, the reduction of Special Forces components training the Pakistani Frontier Corps, the sharply increased constraints on clandestine American counterterrorism operations inside Pakistan, the demanded diminution in the size and the status of the U.S. military assistance mission in Islamabad and the continued support of jihadi groups that continue to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan, remain disconcerting, the United States will find ways to circumvent these problems, albeit at greater cost and with greater risks.

More significant, however, is the damaging enervation of Pakistan’s already-frail civilian authority. While continuing American appeasement of its generals has contributed mightily to this outcome, the demise of the civilian government on issues of national security will not only undermine President Zardari’s bold assurance that “the war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as it is America’s,” but it will also subvert Pakistan’s stability by further strengthening the power of the very military that has taken the country to perdition repeatedly since its formation.


Mark Mazzetti

NY Times, June 4, 2011


America’s tormented relationship with Pakistan has long had the subtlety of a professional wrestling match. So when frayed relations turned openly hostile in recent weeks, it was hardly a surprise to see Pakistani officials flirt publicly with China, America’s biggest rival in Asia.

Within days of the American raid deep inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistani officials travelled to Beijing and asked their “Chinese brothers” to operate a strategic port on the Arabian Sea. They also said the two countries were planning oil pipelines, railroads and even military bases in Pakistan for the Chinese Navy.

The Pakistani officials had already advised their neighbors in Afghanistan—where Americans have committed billions of dollars and lost more than 1,500 lives since 2001—that Afghanistan would be better off placing long-term bets on an ascendant China, rather than a declining United States.

With the tortured marriage clearly in trouble, Islamabad has sent signals that it is ready to start seeing other people. Can Washington afford to do the same? And just how far could Pakistan get by playing the field?

With Bin Laden dead and the White House determined to get the bulk of American troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, some in Washington make the case that the ties that bind the United States to Pakistan are no longer so strong, and that the allegiances that have entangled them over the past decade could be rearranged.

There are new dynamics now at play, noticed by analysts who liken this era to the years immediately after the cold war. For decades, fears of Soviet expansion had brought the United States and Pakistan into a tight embrace, but those ties weakened and ultimately broke once that threat had passed. Similarly, an American withdrawal from Afghanistan could put greater distance between the two nations and allow ties between Washington and New Delhi to grow.

“As we begin to rely on Pakistan less to get supplies into Afghanistan, America’s axis with India will continue to strengthen,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official now at the Brookings Institution. If this happened, he said, it would only be natural for Islamabad to try to grow even closer to China and Saudi Arabia, two longtime allies and trading partners.

But even then, there would be limits on how much America might suffer. Some experts say that a network of new regional relationships with Pakistan actually might help America pursue its deepest interests in the region.

Don’t expect an open break tomorrow, of course. For the moment, the United States and Pakistan remain bound to each other. As long as war rages in Afghanistan, the United States will rely on routes in Pakistan to ferry in military supplies, and to keep pressure on militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. And the Pakistani government still needs the billions that come each year from Washington to, among other things, keep pace in its arms race with India.

Once the war in Afghanistan winds down, though, the relationship could change. Some analysts foresee a new Great Game for dominance in the region, with stakes like billions of dollars in mineral wealth in Afghanistan, access to vital shipping lanes, and a need to monitor the longstanding tensions between India and Pakistan.

Some experts say that a bit of breathing room in the American-Pakistani relationship—managed responsibly—might be just the right therapy for the partnership. In the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001, both the Bush and Obama administrations have made dozens of official visits to Islamabad to implore, lecture or demand that Pakistan sever ties to militant groups, even attaching strings (without ever really pulling them) to billions of dollars in annual aid. Pakistan’s reaction seems to have been little more than resentment of its dependency on Washington, and a determination to pursue an independent course, whether by hiding some of its intelligence agency’s activities or by openly hinting at taking another partner, like China.

One question, however, is whether China sees such a partnership quite the same way.

Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations said that on a recent trip to Islamabad he was struck by how openly Pakistani officials talked about China as a promising strategic alternative to the United States. But he also said that travelling to Beijing made it clear to him that the Chinese didn’t return the sentiments. “The Chinese are simply not interested in playing Pakistan’s game, and they don’t want to be played as a card against the United States,” said Mr. Markey…

India, China and Russia… have been exploring ways to tap vast mineral reserves in Afghanistan, and have supported major road projects that could again make Afghanistan a regional transportation hub. But that goal could be reached only when the shooting stops, and all the powers therefore have an interest in pushing the Afghan government, the Taliban, and some of the other warring Afghan parties toward a peace.

If such a patch of common ground could be cleared, it might also be used for influencing Pakistan to exert leverage over the Taliban, Haqqani network and other Pashtun groups with which it has historical ties. From the American point of view, that would mean turning Pakistan’s years of double-dealing to positive effect.

Some people who have spent time in the trenches of United States-Pakistan diplomacy said that as tempting as it might be just to walk away from the headaches of the relationship, a far better approach would be to bring others into the game.

Vali Nasr, who left the State Department in April after working for the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, said that the “wheels have jammed” in the alliance: Because neither side trusts each other, the United States cannot exert any of the leverage it has with Pakistan.

As he sees it, the United States could help escape the pathologies of the alliance by convincing China, Saudi Arabia, and other nations like the United Arab Emirates that it would be truly ugly if Pakistan were to implode.

It’s a scare tactic, he admits. But, with a battle for Pakistan’s soul being waged among its Islamists, the security establishment, and a moderate middle class, Mr. Nasr says he believes that an unraveling in Pakistan is a clear possibility. At the least, he said, this approach might allow America to coordinate its efforts with countries that Pakistan is more eager to listen to….