Securing Pakistan’s Tribal Belt (5)

5. Conclusion: Expanded, Long-Term U.S. Commitment Needed

The security challenges of Pakistan’s tribal areas lie at the center of broader regional and global threats to stability. The best way to meet these challenges is through enhanced partnership with the political and security institutions of the Pakistani state, and the best way to improve this cooperation is by planning, organizing, and budgeting for a decades-long U.S. commitment to the region. Pakistan’s recent history of turbulence and the threat of another 9/11-type attack provide a political impetus for significantly expanded action by the next White House.

The precise scale-in dollar terms-of U.S. assistance in Pakistan is not addressed in this report because the next administration should first undertake its own review of Pakistan’s civilian and security requirements. This sort of review would represent a healthy corrective from recent practice. Washington’s commitments to Pakistan after 9/11-President Bush’s five-year $3 billion package and the recent five-year $750 million pledge for the FATA-were driven by political and diplomatic concerns, not prior U.S. needs-based assessments. That said, in the context of building a stronger bilateral partnership, the next administration must also bear in mind the symbolic and political significance of fulfilling prior commitments to Islamabad. This report therefore recommends that the Bush administration’s pledges of $600 million per year (half civilian, half military) should serve as a baseline for new commitments. Additional funding may be needed to support the short- and long-term goals outlined throughout this report, from strengthening governance to building security institutions that are capable of a full range of counterinsurgency and counterter ror missions.

The most urgent expansion of U.S. resources should come in the form of U.S. personnel and institutions built to uphold a long-term partnership with, and presence in, Pakistan. New investments are particularly vital on the civilian side (State and USAID) in order to expand, train, and maintain a cadre of experienced officers focused on developing programs for the tribal areas. Washington’s political commitment will be best demonstrated and served by professionals who are encouraged to see the region as a career path rather than an exotic tour of one or two years. These improvements will require new expenditures in order to attract and retain talented individuals. They will also require the reform of existing bureaucratic personnel structures that now dissuade U.S. officials from focusing on the region in a sustained way.

Success in the approach recommended in this report should be judged by the strength of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership, as well as by the extent to which Pakistan demonstrates a commitment to making good use of resources-its own and those offered by Washington-in building an independent capacity for counterterror and counterinsurgency efforts. On both counts, Washington needs patience, as the necessary transformation of the tribal areas will require a generation or longer.

But U.S. patience must also have limits. Even though a complete transformation might take decades, incremental progress is required in order to sustain momentum in the bilateral partnership. The present political stalemate consuming Islamabad has divided and distracted Pakistan’s civilian leaders. Unsurprisingly, the army has been reluctant to take particularly aggressive steps on its own, preferring a more passive role in the context of political uncertainty. Should Islamabad’s drift persist well into 2009, the White House will be severely handicapped-robust cooperation requires at least minimal leadership and energy on the Pakistani side. Under these conditions, the next administration may need to consider alternative approaches toward Islamabad.

One such alternative, a U.S.-Pakistan relationship based on coercive sanctions-as opposed to one founded upon deeper partnership and U.S. incentives-could conceivably provide an effective stopgap against the most urgent threats to U.S. security. In many ways, Washington’s approach toward Islamabad since 9/11 has combined the threat of sanctions with an oft-repeated commitment to long-term partnership. To date, the mix has been imperfectly calibrated, driven in part by jockeying between the Bush administration and Congress as well as among various agencies and departments of the executive branch. In the future, Washington could pursue a more precise policy of doling out incentives to (or threatening sanctions against) Pakistan’s army and political leadership in return for meeting explicit U.S. demands, such as the elimination of specific terrorist cells, the mitigation of cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, or the permission to launch U.S. Predator strikes against targets on Pakistan’s side of the border. In a narrow sense, this balancing of U.S. carrots and sticks would likely prove less costly in dollar terms than the more ambitious agenda outlined in this report.

The main problem with a future of coercive sanctions is that it would do little to treat the underlying causes of terrorism in Pakistan and even less to improve the tenor of the broader bilateral relationship. Since the weaknesses of Pakistan’s political and security institutions already leave its society vulnerable to extremism and militancy, a U.S. policy that fails to build the capacity of the Pakistani state runs the risk that the state will deteriorate further and be captured by extremists. Imposing sanctions (or threatening them) also ignores Pakistan’s capacity deficit in the near term. This deficit makes it more likely that U.S. demands will go unmet and, in turn, that bilateral tensions will increase. In short, U.S. coercion without Pakistani capacity or confidence is a recipe for aggravating frictions that could eventually
destroy the relationship.

Another alternative to partnership with Pakistan would be for Washington to distance itself from Islamabad and to address specific security threats unilaterally or by building closer ties with other regional players. Rather than pressing Pakistan to act against al-Qaeda, Taliban, and other militant groups operating within its territory, the United States would devote more effort to helping Afghanistan and India seal their borders, strengthening Kabul’s independent capacity for security and governance, and developing the intelligence necessary to support U.S. counterterror attacks within Pakistan (whether by Predator strikes, limited ground incursions, or other means). Instead of undertaking an ambitious-and costly-partnership to transform Pakistan’s military and civilian institutions, this approach would aim to cordon off the destabilizing influences of networks within Pakistan and to eliminate the worst terrorists and militants whenever possible. Washington’s diplomats would then respond to the political fallout-in Pakistan and beyond-that would inevitably result from unilateral U.S. strikes on Pakistani soil.

But pulling away from Pakistan would impose significant costs. As with coercive sanctions, the United States would fail to address the underlying causes of instability and insecurity in Pakistan. In addition, without Pakistani partnership the United States (and NATO/ISAF) would need to find a new way to supply its mission in Afghanistan. At present, no Central Asian alternative exists to the Pakistan-based logistics hub, at least not one capable of supporting operations at the current (or an expanded) tempo. Even more troubling, over time Washington’s decision to pull away from Islamabad coupled with unilateral U.S. military incursions into Pakistan’s tribal areas would likely yield a further deterioration in the bilateral relationship, spiraling downwards to frosty tension or even hostility.

If U.S.-Pakistan relations do crumble-if Pakistan’s future leaders choose to ride a wave of populist anti-Americanism, fail to take steps toward transforming military and civilian institutions, and rekindle support to extremist organizations in the face of Washington’s protests-then a U.S. strategy of containment and deterrence would be in order. Under these conditions, the United States would seek to limit Pakistan’s reach beyond its borders, threaten overwhelming retaliatory strikes to deter Pakistani hostility, and shore up Pakistan’s neighbors in the region, particularly Afghanistan and India. A U.S. shift toward containment would also entail political and economic coercion to isolate Pakistan and reduce its access to dangerous technologies and resources.

But a U.S. containment and deterrence policy would deliver only marginal guarantees of security. Containment and deterrence are more effective against unitary states with recognized leadership hierarchies and institutions than against hard-to-find, secretive, subnational organizations (like al-Qaeda or its successors) that would likely pose the greatest security threats from Pakistan. Without Islamabad’s cooperation, Washington would have significant trouble tracking and impeding the movement of terrorists within or through Pakistan. And U.S. deterrent threats of massive retaliation against the territory or people of Pakistan would only work if the Pakistani state itself has the capacity to police the activities of militants and terrorists on its soil. An Islamabad further weakened by U.S. containment would have no such control.

The Least Worst Option

Investing in a long-term partnership with Islamabad will not be cheap or easy. But the foreseeable costs associated with all of the realistic alternatives are even more daunting. The next occupant of the White House should keep these costs in mind if the frustrations of working with and through Islamabad mount and patience with the partnership grows thin.

As a global superpower, the United States is far better placed than Pakistan to bear the burden of ev en these suboptimal outcomes. This sobering reality, in combination with the tangible benefits Pakistanis would gain from a cooperative, long-term partnership, may well inspire at least some of Pakistan’s leaders to welcome the comprehensive strategy advocated by this report and to encourage a reciprocal approach by Islamabad.

About the Author

Daniel Markey is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2003 to 2007, he held the South Asia portfolio on the policy planning staff at the U.S. Department of State. His responsibilities included analysis and planning for the secretary of state on regional and global policy issues, participation in departmental and interagency South Asia policy formulation, articulation of regional policy for senior-level speeches and print media, and acting as a liaison with academic, think tank, and diplomatic communities.

Prior to government service, Dr. Markey taught at Princeton Univ ersity and served as the executive director of Princeton’s Research Program in International Security. In 2000 and 2001, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. He receiv ed a BA in international studies from Johns Hopkins Univ ersity and a PhD from Princeton University’s Department of Politics.

Advisory Committee for Securing Pakistan’s Tribal Belt
Stanley S. Arkin
Paul Matulic
The Arkin Group, LLC
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Jonah Blank

John E. McLaughlin
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced
International Studies

Steve Coll

Polly Nayak

Robert B. Oakley
New America Foundation

James F. Dobbins
The RAND Corporation
National Defense University

Frederic Grare

Michelle S. Parker
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The RAND Corporation

Jonathan L. Sperling

Ashley J. Tellis

Paul E. Greenwood
Council on Foreign Relations

Robert L. Grenier
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Kroll Associates

Joshua T. White

Seth G. Jones
Council on Faith and International Affairs
The RAND Corporation

David J. Katz
Naval War College

Note: Council Special Reports reflect the judgments and recommendations of the author(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of members of the advisory committee, whose involvement in no way should be interpreted as an endorsement of the report by either themselves or the organizations with which they are affiliated.

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