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Research Report

Pakistan in the Danger Zone: A Tenuous U.S. - Pakistan Relationship

Shuja Nawaz
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2010
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 28
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)
    Frederick Kempe

    Perhaps no bilateral relationship in the world matches that of the United States and Pakistan when it comes to its combustible combination of strategic importance and perilous instability. For that reason, the Atlantic Council has made it a priority to track closely the Obama administration’s considerable and often admirable efforts to strengthen U.S.-Pakistani ties – and make prudent policy suggestions when we believe we can help.

    Our report of February 2009, Needed: A Comprenhensive U.S. Policy Towards Pakistan¹, signaled key recommendations for U.S. policymakers on how to achieve a sustainable and productive relationship between the two countries. U.S. officials implemented...

  2. (pp. 5-7)

    2009 was a key transitional year for Pakistan, a strategically important country of some 175 million imprisoned as much by its geography as by its checkered history of military and civilian autocracy and misrule. The weak civilian coalition that inherited General Pervez Musharraf’s crumbling instruments of state was unprepared to rapidly restore participatory government. President Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) chose to hang on for more than two years to the extraordinary powers wrested by his predecessor from the Prime Minister and Parliament. In the tradition of Pakistani politics as family business, he took on the...

  3. (pp. 7-8)

    Meanwhile, the United States, under a fresh and worldly President Barack Obama, sharpened its focus on the “necessary” war in Afghanistan, as it tried to make up for nearly a decade of neglect marked by billions of dollars of wastage. That the Afghan war could not be “won” without success in Pakistan became the frequently heard mantra of the new administration. Here, despite many steps forward, a strategy was slow to develop, and the distrust that the Atlantic Council warned of in 2009 remained, especially among the Pakistani people and the military. Today, without winning over the Pakistani army, a...

  4. (pp. 8-8)

    Pakistan moved toward a democratic system with counter balancing arms of government with the restoration, after much foot dragging by the government, of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry began asserting the role of the Supreme Court in key areas of governance. In the 1990s, Pakistan had a Troika: the President, Prime Minister, and the army chief. Now it appeared a new Troika seemed to be emerging: the President, the Army Chief, and the Chief Justice. The Supreme Court quickly nullified Musharraf’s National Reconciliation Ordinance that essentially gave amnesty to all politicians charged with...

  5. (pp. 9-10)

    On the economic front in Pakistan, the momentum for change had been lost after the elections of 2008, when the coalition collapsed and the Muslim League (N)’s Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, and other ministers quit. A former Citibank executive with extensive banking experience in Pakistan, Shaukat Tarin, was appointed advisor for finance but lacked the political power to effect change. In 2009, finally, he was elected to the Senate and became a full-fledged minister and began taking steps to improve economic decision making.

    A major move forward was the conclusion, after seventeen years of debate, of the National Finance Commission...

  6. (pp. 11-13)

    The Obama Administration had begun its term by ordering a fresh review of the Afghanistan and Pakistan situation. Rather, it ordered numerous reviews and then synthesized them into a single review by former national security senior staff member Bruce Riedel. Individual reviews were conducted by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, the Commander Centcom, General David Petraeus, and national security staff member Lieutenant General Douglas Lute. The President sought advice from Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, among others. The result was a validation and reassertion of the importance of Afghanistan...

  7. (pp. 14-14)

    In the Pakistani political narrative, history matters. Both its people and its government have long memories of their roller coaster relationship with the United States. In their narrative, the United States engages with Pakistan when it suits its global or regional interests and then departs. Spikes in the friendship, accompanied by military and economic assistance, occurred in the early 1950s to 1965 when a military alliance (ostensibly to fight the Soviets) ended with the Indo-Pakistan war and the stoppage of U.S. aid to Pakistan and India both. This left Pakistan vulnerable since it had become dependent on U.S. assistance. A...

  8. (pp. 15-16)

    The historical memories that fed the mutual distrust between the United States and Pakistan pushed into the background the reality of their common interests and shared aims on four key topics:

    both the United States and Pakistan understood the dangers of proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons. Pakistan in fact benefited from U.S. assistance to train its military in protecting and safeguarding its nuclear assets. It would not be in Pakistan’s interests to allow its knowledge or technology of nuclear weapons to leak onto the global marketplace, especially if it were to end up in the hands of non-state actors....

  9. (pp. 17-17)

    Last year, the Atlantic Council report on Pakistan, issued in February 2009 under the co-chairmanship of Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, issued a clear warning captured in its title: “URGENT Needed: A Comprehensive U.S. Policy Toward Pakistan”. One year into the Obama Administration the shape of such a policy is coming into focus but it has yet to take root. Not surprisingly, domestic political and economic considerations have diverted attention away from focusing on Pakistan to the extent that the country deserves. Not just the United States but also the international community has been tardy in meeting Pakistan’s urgent...

  10. (pp. 18-19)

    Many detailed recommendations made by U.S. last year remain works in progress or just ideas on paper. These cover political and economic actions as well as support for the military. Lack of rapid action on these fronts will further strengthen the view inside Pakistan that the U.S. is not as serious about Pakistan’s role and situation in the region as its leaders state it to be. The skeptics maintain that the United States has ulterior motives and only short-term interests. History, this say, will repeat itself. Domestic political events and the desire to build a partnership with India in South...

  11. (pp. 20-20)

    If the United States walks away from Afghanistan and Pakistan again, the hands of those extremists in Pakistan that branded it as an untrustworthy ally will be strengthened. (The United States needs to show by its actions that it will not abandon the Afghan theater for a long time and will remain closely involved in Afghanistan’s development.) Re-engagement will be harder the next time around. Pakistan also risks overestimating its leverage against the United States. As economic events at home and political crises elsewhere distract the U.S. government and shift attention away from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the latter may find...