Pakistan: Incompetent & Duplicitous Ally

With the death of Osama bin Laden the U.S. can now begin to assess its partner in the ‘Long War’.  Any brief cogent view of Pakistan will reveal a deeply troubling political arena fit for only the most competent statesman.  Those at foggy bottom or turtle bay need not apply!

Just how did Pakistan become both incompetent and duplicitous at the same time?

Let me explain.

The Pakistani’s have historical, ideological, cultural, geographic, linguistic and tribal ties with Afghan Pashtun’s.  The Soviet resistance throughout the 1980’s cemented this relation.  Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) came under the influence of radical Islamist ideology throughout the 1980’s.  How else to put it:  the case officers went native.  When the Soviet Union collapsed managing the interior of Pakistan tribal relation with Afghan Pashtun’s fell to ISI.

Our dilemma today is to avoid any action that would trigger a major uprising in Pakistan that threatens the stability of the regime.  Last week’s killing of Osama bin Laden was portrayed within intelligence circles as the harbinger that threatened Pakistani sovereignty.  The American President deserves recognition for his leadership in pursuing its counterterrorism strategy in light of such difficult conditions.

Since 9/11 Pakistan has pursued a policy that gives appearance of cooperation only.  Why is this the case?  The answer is found in quarrying the strategic mind of the political operatives at ISI.

For decades ISI has used terror to pursue its political aims at developing strategic depth in its western border.  This is the result of being badly defeated three times in its engagement with India.  It is also the political sin qua non for unstable regimes to continuously thread potential adversaries that serve domestic needs.  Nevertheless, the more difficult analysis is perhaps more true:  the Pakistani’s could not close the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries within Pakistani interior, they could only limit and control their operation.  As will all successful counterinsurgencies political half measures and limits are often enough to engender momentum.  Their is extraordinary political danger for those who ignore such limits, for the very people who pose the most substantial danger to Pakistani stability are the ones with the best intelligence on al Qaeda.

We must accept and manage Pakistani duplicity.

This requires the acumen of a Bismark.  We have such a man in Dr. David Petraeus.

With the death of bin Laden and the immediate removal of Petraeus from the AfPak theatre to CIA the door is opening for a complete redefinition of AfPak strategy.  What constrains our warcraft?

1.  Will will not be able to engage in endless combat in Afghanistan.

2.  No withdrawal strategy is conceivable without a viable Pakistan.

I don’t think we can change our policy that has lasted for the last ten years.  Nothing with the death of bin Laden changes the geopolitical realities that drive this engagement.  Pakistan has a multitiered policy that is grounded in managing its relation with Afghan Pashtun’s and Taliban.  The option of breaking with Pakistan does not exist.

Our very best strategic option is to combine counterinsurgency with counterterrorism throughout the region.  Dumping our relationship with Pakistan is just not an option.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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