This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
Complications in US – Pakistan Relations
Since September 11, 2001 no relationship has been more contentious, or more vexing, than the one shared between the United States and Pakistan. It is a relationship that despite obvious mutual benefits is often viewed through a lens of distrust by both countries. This consociation began during the regime of Muhammad Zia Al Huq as both nations stood side by side stemming off the Soviet invasion of the1980’s. Low points during the A.Q. Kahn and Raymond Davis affairs tested the limits of both nations; and of course, in the wake of the final reckoning of Osama Bin Laden relations took on a life of its own. Rather than being seen as testaments to the strong foundation of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship ideally working well together, each incident, in its time, has been construed by many pundits, in both nations, as the beginning of the end. The lowest watermark viewed by Pakistan as an infringement on sovereign territory, the bin Laden mission, sent tenuous diplomacy on a collision course with conflict and distrust. This dysfunctional juxtaposition between the U.S. and Pakistan has become more glaringly apparent this summer during the talks associated with the re-opening of NATO Supply Routes running through Pakistan.
After months of seemingly interminable deliberation, officials from Washington D.C. and Islamabad reached an agreement to allow full access to the critical supply lines running through Pakistan into Afghanistan. The routes had been closed seven months prior when a NATO airstrike engaged and killed 24 Pakistani Soldiers on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This unfortunate incident, and its fallout, was allowed to become a bellwether for the overall health of relations between the two nations. In a vacuum, the resolution of this seven month ordeal would represent a glimmer of hope suggesting a potential thaw in the chilly dialogue exchanged in previous months. The reality of this situation is far more complicated than it would appear. Disturbingly, rather than seize this opportunity to gain traction on the progress made to date, there are echoes of inflammatory rhetoric within the halls of both governments which seek to undermine any foundation for progress in relations moving forward. Whether it is American politicians who are threatening to withdraw all aid to Pakistan, or Pakistani politicians who undermine progress by admonishing their cooperative colleagues, the situation is becoming more untenable. Many leaders in Pakistan publicly endorsed protests that were fomenting at route checkpoints. This influential affirmation recently boiled over into violence. Contrary voices, emanating from both countries, are at best naive and counterproductive; at their worst they are provocative and dangerous. As long as these individuals are willing to undermine the shared interests of two nations to serve solitary political interests it will be impossible for either nation to accomplish their strategic goals. It is unrealistic to believe that these politicians’ singular actions have any viable purpose beyond individual political gain.
Democracy in Pakistan, like democracy anywhere else in the world is not easy. One needs look no further than the 112th Congress to come to the realization that while the greatest system in the world, it is not for those who are weak in their convictions. It is through rigorous debate, where strife becomes political discourse, that the backbone of good democratic governance is created and maintained. This foundation is what provides a country that has truly embraced democracy the means to be secure and prosperous. It should be of great concern that we have observed a disturbing trend in Pakistan where individuals and groups have chosen to disrupt and manipulate the perception of a critical bi-lateral relationship to serve their own purposes. In doing so, the stability of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and by proxy the stability of the entire region, has been put at stake. The two countries would be better served by finding new ways to define the relationship, rather than succumbing to the same pitfalls that have plagued them in the past few years.
The primary way that the two nations could begin a renewal process would be for the U.S. to re-imagine the way aid is delivered to Pakistan. For too long the perception in Pakistan has been U.S. aid money is simply a payoff; an exchange between the political elites of both nations that does little to help the average citizen of Pakistan. This perception has greatly contributed to the negative sentiment held in the Pakistani population regarding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. One idea that could address this issue within the realm of security aid would be re-programming some of the money designated to the Pakistani Military to build capacity within the civilian law enforcement community in Pakistan. If implemented properly, this would serve the dual purpose of removing money intended for the betterment of Pakistan from the hands of a political elite (the military), and put it where the communities will be able to observe organic improvements locally. An effort of this nature has the potential to create its own inertia, where success breeds its own success and has observable positive influences community wide.
To implement improvements to the aid program from the ground up gives the bi-lateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States its last best hope. If both sides continue to strive to implement the massive monuments to dysfunction that many of the aid programs have become, they stand to lose a valuable strategic alliance and more importantly the entire region.