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Pakistan's tightrope « Previous | |Next »
May 16, 2011

In this article in Foreign Policy Shuja Nawaz advises the US post the assassination of Osama bin Laden to treat the Pakistani military as a friend, despite the latter's Pakistan's duplicity in the face of terror--ie., its links to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The reason? The overlap between Washington's and Islamabad's interests in the region, from a stable Afghanistan and Pakistan to normalization of Pakistan's relations with India. It's not that simple, given the strategic tensions in US-Pakistan relations.


George Friedman at Stratfor gives us the strategic background in U.S.-Pakistani Relations Beyond Bin Laden. He says that after 9/11: Washington demanded that the Pakistanis aid the United States in its war against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

For Pakistan, this represented a profound crisis. On the one hand, Pakistan badly needed the United States to support it against what it saw as its existential enemy, India. On the other hand, Islamabad found it difficult to rupture or control the intimate relationships, ideological and personal, that had developed between the ISI and the Taliban, and by extension with al Qaeda to some extent. In Pakistani thinking, breaking with the United States could lead to strategic disaster with India. However, accommodating the United States could lead to unrest, potential civil war and even collapse by energizing elements of the ISI and supporters of Taliban and radical Islamism in Pakistan.

The Pakistani solution was to appear to be doing everything possible to support the United States in Afghanistan, with a quiet limit on what that support would entail.

Friedman adds:

That limit on support set by Islamabad was largely defined as avoiding actions that would trigger a major uprising in Pakistan that could threaten the regime. Pakistanis were prepared to accept a degree of unrest in supporting the war but not to push things to the point of endangering the regime....The Americans were, of course, completely aware of the Pakistani limits and did not ultimately object to this arrangement. The United States did not want a coup in Islamabad, nor did it want massive civil unrest. The United States needed Pakistan on whatever terms the Pakistanis could provide help.

The Americans accepted the principle of Pakistani duplicity, but drew a line at al Qaeda.

The United States is now looking for an exit from Afghanistan and no withdrawal strategy is conceivable without a viable Pakistan helping to stabilize Afghanistan and to contain Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:45 PM | | Comments (7)


Osama Bin Laden's death makes it easier for the Americans to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, even though the worsening security situation means that talking and fighting will proceed alongside each other for some time.

Talking means a political solution to the conflict. Would that be one led by Afghans? It looks as if we have entered the Afghan Endgame ---the 10-year-old Afghan war is definitely drawing to a close.

What counts for Pakistani military is the endgame of the war---their strategy is to ensure the return and reintegration of the Taliban into mainstream Afghan national life. In that way Pakistan achieves its strategic depth in Afghanistan.

in his blog M.K.Bhadrakumar argues that the US's strategic interest is west Asia and that he US is keen to polarise the Persian Gulf along the Sunni-Shi'ite schism; to pursue an effective containment policy toward Iran; that the US regional calculus will continue to envisage the "Greater Middle East" as one continuous strategic entity that stretches from the Persian Gulf to Kazakhstan and is supervised under the Central Command.

Any 'negotiated settlement' with the Taliban to end the US occupation of Afghanistan would be about as worthless as the agreement with Hanoi to withdraw from Vietnam. It will only happen if and when the US is looking for a face-saving excuse to capitulate, and there is no sign that is imminent. Rather the reverse.

All parties in Washington seem to have a common view that SW Asia and the Middle East are subject to oversight and intervention as and when it suits American interests. The countries of the region are not sovereign nations, Israel excepted of course. However as the decline and disintegration of US imperial power continues, countries will be more inclined to defy Washington and pursue their own regional interests (as Iran has been doing for some years, despite endless sabre-rattling in the USA).

In the twenty-first-century, the U.S. celebrates its status as the world’s “sole superpower” with a military second to none fighting endless wars. The endless war is called the global war on terror. The US, in reality, is an empire is in decline. America has dismal unemployment figures, rotting infrastructure, rising gas prices, troubled treasury, and a people on the edge.

So they could declare victory in Afghanistan/Pakistan and go home.

Interestingly May, empires in decline have a historical record of trying to cling to their military dominance even when it's sending them broke. Not that there is a huge number of precedents of course, so that doesn't necessarily mean the yanks will do the same, but it's significant that any suggestion of decreasing real spending on 'defence' is met with howls about treason from conservatives.

One thinks of the way the Brits tried to hang on 'East of Suez' after 1945, and the rather pathetic way they ended up pulling out in a rush in response to overwhelming financial pressures. While the USA is a long way from that kind of humiliating retreat to second-class power status, its economy remains a basket case with seemingly intractable structural problems.

"While the USA is a long way from that kind of humiliating retreat to second-class power status, its economy remains a basket case with seemingly intractable structural problems."

You never can tell, Ken.

I suspect that's the sort of thing many people were saying about the USSR in 1988... just as they were withdrawing from Afghanistan.