Pakistan: Ally or Enemy?
Pakistan yesterday blocked NATO's primary supply line into Afghanistan in retaliation for an air strike that killed three Pakistani paramilitaries. Are the two countries truly allies?
Pakistan yesterday blocked NATO’s primary supply line into Afghanistan in retaliation for an air strike that killed three Pakistani paramilitaries.
As I note in my New Atlanticist piece on the subject, “Pakistan Blocks NATO Supply Lines, Testing Fragile Relationship,” it’s getting increasingly difficult to maintain the notion that Pakistan is America’s ally in the war in Afghanistan. And vice-versa.
The reason, as [Marvin Weinbaum, formerly of the State Department and now with the Middle East Institute] explains, is that the two sides have a very different view of the situation. “The heart of the problem here is that the very people who we have seen as our enemies, like the Afghan Taliban, the so-called Haqqani network, the Hezb-i-Islami, these are all insurgent groups that were fighting in Afghanistan, that these very people are not viewed as the enemy by the Pakistan government.” Instead, he explains, “The Pakistan government has for some time seen these people as a surrogate force in Afghanistan, particularly as they expect the Americans and their allies won’t be there over the long run.”
Weinbaum distinguishes, as do most experts in the region, the Afghan Taliban from the Pakistani Taliban, with whom the Pakistani government sees themselves “in a death struggle.” But, from the standpoint of the United States, all these groups are the enemy and part of the same amorphous phenomenon. And it’s getting very hard to keep pretending that we’re on the same page.
Complicating matters further, the democratically government continues to serve at the pleasure of the military, which Weinbaum thinks will continue pulling the strings from the outside rather than retaking the reins in a coup. “There’s really no reason for the military to want to regain formal power. At this point in time, the military gets just about everything it needs. It controls foreign policy. It controls – has a veto over domestic policy that in any way affects its interests. Why at this juncture would it want to take on the formal responsibility, particularly in a country where things have been going so badly?”
At the same time Zardari is getting pressured from the army, he must worry about public opinion, which is increasingly hostile to American strikes that flouts Pakistan’s sovereignty and kill its civilians. Indeed, General Kiyani can rightly claim the mantle of popular support when pressuring Zardari on these matters.
In this morning’s Washington Post, Karen DeYoung and Karin Brulliard quote a senior Pakistani official on the view of the relationship with the United States fron Islamabad, “On the one hand, there is a genuine comfort level and a feeling of partnership – at least on the surface. But the Pakistan government and military are feeling very frustrated. They feel they are doing all they can in a very complicated domestic setup – a fragile democracy, more fragile after the floods – and that the U.S. doesn’t really care about anything besides [its own] needs. They are not true partners.”
And the Pakistani parliament issued a unanimous proclamation condemning yesterday’s attacks and Interior Minister Rehman Malik proclaimed, “we will have to see if they are allies or enemies.”
The answer, of course, remains Both. But it’s getting increasingly hard to play that double game.
National War College professor Bernard Finel believes that, “if Pakistan fails to whole-heartedly support our efforts in Afghanistan it is game over.” If that’s right, it was over from the start.