U.S. Must Maintain Bilateral Relationship with Pakistan
Disengaging with Pakistan comes at too high of a cost
October 28, 2011
Despite legitimate concerns about Pakistan's loyalties, it remains in the United States' national security interest to maintain our bilateral relationship with Pakistan.
The presence of several competing actors in South and Central Asia necessitates ongoing U.S. engagement in the region. As countless entities try to gain a foothold in the region and guide its future, the United States must redouble its efforts to engage with those nations whose interests align with ours.
Certainly, there are legitimate concerns about Pakistan. The revelation that the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was hiding out in a $1 million compound in Abbottabad shocked many Americans. Adding to concerns is the country's checkered history that includes waging three wars with India, serving as the base of operations for infamous nuclear proliferator Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan, and colluding with militants.
Pakistan's Directorate for Interservices Intelligence, or ISI, has also been tied to particularly damning acts, including the widely reported murder of Saleem Shahzad, a journalist who was investigating the ties between the ISI and terrorists.
These and other developments beg the question: Why do we continue to engage with the government of Pakistan?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answered it best when she said, "Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state sitting at the crossroads of a strategic region. And we have seen the cost of disengaging from this region before."
We have to find a way to maintain a stable and beneficial relationship with Pakistan. But we can't do it in a way where we avoid issues of concern about Pakistan's controversial behavior or pretend it is not important. We cannot ignore the fact that elements within the Pakistan government are aiding and abetting the Taliban and the Haqqani network, based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, and providing safe havens for terrorism.
But we must also be mindful of the domestic audience in this strategic hotspot. Provocative statements from U.S. officials can undermine support for the United States among Pakistani citizens and play into the hands of radical elements there.
Last week, a high-level U.S. delegation traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to hammer home the message that harboring terrorists is unacceptable. Secretary Clinton, CIA director Gen. David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey lent gravitas to the message that the United States has no patience for terrorist safe havens.
Their visit followed an Afghan/NATO offensive in eastern Afghanistan that captured 200 insurgents. The operation targeted the Haqqani network. And in July, the administration withheld up to $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan in order to re-evaluate the level of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.
As the United States works to maintain critical relations with this important nuclear power, we must be vocal in citing our concerns, but also make it clear that we understand the importance and strategic nature of our alliance.
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