The first requirement for developing a strategy is to have an objective. In regard to Pakistan, the United States would like to see a stable, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan governed by the rule of law, a nation where a good education was available to everyone, where human rights were widely respected, and where good governance was demanded by the electorate. A stable and prosperous democracy could bring peace to the region and support global cooperation. It would incorporate basic American ideals that all men are created equal, that their unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The rule of law protects these ideals, while democratic governance promotes peace among nations.
Such a Pakistan could address American concerns about the control over the nation's nuclear weapons, about the spread of radical extremists in the border areas with Afghanistan, and about support for forces undermining the Afghan government. Indeed, the Afghan crisis cannot be resolved without stabilizing Pakistan.
Why is this so difficult to achieve?
[NOTE: Comments are welcomed and may be incorporated with references in future revisions.]
The universal ideals we promote are not really universal. Even in the United States, there is a widespread belief that one's individual conscience takes precedence over legal requirements. We recognize this in law with specific military exemptions for conscientious objectors. But frictions continually arise. Hospitals refuse certain types of medical assistance. Cab drivers in Minneapolis refuse to carry passengers with alcohol, or even with guide dogs. A strong belief persists that wives should be subservient to their husbands. Holiday displays are challenged in court. In extreme cases we have seen protesters striking down abortion doctors, killing to save lives. So it is no surprise that Pakistanis with a very different cultural background would see "universal" ideals in a different light and be wary of the rule of law.
The United States is held in low esteem; partly because of this American ideals are also suspect. Through 60 years, our relationship with Pakistan has been primarily a transactional one -- we supported Pakistan (mainly its military leaders) when we needed support, first against the Soviets in Afghanistan, more recently against radical Islamists. Pakistanis are well aware that the United States throughout this period has paid scant attention to helping Pakistan actually develop as a nation. This skepticism is of course intensified by the general skepticism in the Muslim world about American intentions towards Islam. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and widespread civilian casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan have soured Muslim opinions. Radical groups are adept at using widespread antipathy to the United States to fuel anger and resentment and to supply a steady stream of recruits.
Ever since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 there has been a bitter rivalry with India, including several wars and the loss of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The rivalry centers on the disputed area of Kashmir but is set in a larger context. India and China have had a historic rivalry which has also led to warfare. Consequently India feels compelled to have a large and modern army. But Pakistan sees the Indian army as a threat to its own well being, so feels compelled to counter Indian military efforts with its own large army. Growing American ties with India, including an agreement on nuclear power, weaken U.S. efforts to be a neutral peace broker.
Radical Islamic groups are willing to resort to extreme violence. This, in fact, is a trend we helped to initiate, supplying large amounts of weapons through the Pakistani Intelligence Service ISI to some of the very radicals we are now fighting, back when they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. In fact, the border has never been accepted by Afghanistan and divides a very backward, fundamentalist Pashtun tribal area which strongly opposes both the Kabul government and the U.S. efforts to support it. U.S. missile strikes into this area have eliminated a number of key radical operatives, but radical elements have been very skillful at exploiting collateral damage (real or manufactured) to inflame Pakistani public opinion. So the strikes provide short-term tactical advantages in Afghanistan, but risk turning the Pakistani public totally against U.S. objectives. Now, with some high visibility violent acts in the main areas of Pakistan -- including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and a number of high profile bombings these groups are encouraging the bulk of Pakistan to buy (relative) peace at the cost of ceding control of the border area and its citizens to radical leaders.
Vested interests further complicate this picture. Tribal sheiks and mullahs in the border areas have never been under the effective control of the central Pakistani government and would naturally like to keep it that way. Through Pakistan's entire history, the army has been the major political power in the country. Civilian governments have historically been too weak to promote policies in opposition to the military. The military has used its favored position to enrich top officers and promote direct control over a broad range of commercial and industrial companies. So it has a natural interest in maintaining a strong public sense of a threat from India, and conversely a disincentive to engage in costly operations against radical groups in the border area, a struggle widely seen as an American problem, not a Pakistani one. It will require a basic realignment of public opinion to accept that the real enemy of Pakistan is not Indian but internal.
Supportive ties between the army (particularly the ISI) and radical Islamic elements were strong when Pakistan was funneling US arms to anti-Soviet guerrillas in Afghanistan. These ties also helped keep radical separatist groups active in Kashmir. Pakistani military and civilian officials claim that such ties have been totally suppressed. But the degree to which informal ties still exist is unclear; indeed, India has accused two Pakistani army officers of training the gunmen who carried out the recent Mumbai massacre.
Rivalry between the two main political parties is exacerbated by bitter personal animosities which make effective government essentially impossible. The government is widely seen as an inept and corrupt institution, with appointments made on the basis of cronyism, rather than genuine merits. The army keeps a low profile in politics, but apparently is still the controlling force in the country. How to rebalance civil-military relations is a key question. Democracy does support peace, but only when it is a mature democracy with decades of experience compromising over divisive issues. Countries with nominally democratic governments are often bellicose and nationalistic. Politicians pursue private agendas and manipulate popular themes to gain election, even if these themes are freighted with enmity. Unfortunately, Pakistan's unstable democracy resembles this picture.
This situation is worsened by the ongoing global economic crisis. Internal resources are simply not available for social development, while external resources, including US aid, has become much harder to find. Prosperity can reduce social tensions, but hardships breed frustration leading to violence and radicalism. Yet the present economic crisis may have a silver lining if it raises a specter of Pakistan being left behind economically and forces the Pakistani leadership and public to reassess fundamental issues which have long been ignored.
The country itself is a hodge-podge of different ethnic groups which often have little attachment to any concept of a Pakistani nation. Without such a concept, it is difficult to see how Pakistan can have any effective government. But a vision of what Pakistan is, of what kind of country it could be, is no where to be found. Any such vision cannot be supplied by the United States, or any outsiders. It has to come from within Pakistan, developed by Pakistanis. It has to show how the nation's disparate elements can be combined into a prosperous country. Absent such a vision, we can only expect that the disparate elements will continue to work at cross purposes.
The United States can help. It sets an example of how a multicultural nation can function. And its basic ideals of democracy, equality, and the worth of the individual do have wide global appeal. Specific actions can include:
Develop a concise statement of U.S. objectives in Pakistan, something on the lines of the first paragraph above, and continually use this statement to preface U.S. policy initiatives. Although not universally accepted, American ideals do have wide appeal and can support the claim that the United States is indeed a friend of Pakistan. An existing U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue can help to develop a joint concept of national development. But any real transformation of Pakistan remains decades away. As one current assessment by Ashley Tellis stresses, the United States needs to make a clear commitment to promoting positive trends in good governance, stable macroeconomic management, focused investments in human capital, responsible foreign and strategic policy, and temperate ideological orientations.
Promote Pakistani debate on national objectives. There actually is an ongoing debate, but it is fragmented and lacks visibility, often overwhelmed by more demagogic presentations. So President Zardari himself, in an opinion piece in The New York Times (and thus specifically aimed at a U.S. audience), stressed that Pakistan must be economically viable, that strengthening democracy and improving education, housing and health care is the "greatest tool we could wield against extremism," and that the designation of regional opportunity zones to build a viable economy in Northwest Pakistan and in Afghanistan would give residents an economic and political stake in the success of their democratic governments. Similarly, in his initial speech to the Pakistani parliament, President Zardari said, "My dream is to free this great country from the shackles of poverty, hunger, terrorism and disunity." Such statements need to be given wider publicity, the government needs to be pushed to provide associated plans and live up to them. Non-governmental organizations need to be encouraged to comment and expand on such statements. Ratings by independent organizations (such as Transparency International) need to be publicized to provide an unbiased picture of the actual situation.
U.S. support needs to be credibly tied to long-range objectives. Such support to civil projects can go a long way to rebuilding the image of the United States as a friend. This was evident in the aftermath of the 1985 Kashmir earthquake when popular opinions of the United States improved dramatically. Unfortunately, the short term aid was not followed up with any long term program and the initial opinion improvement quickly faded; local radical groups, in contrast, continued support. U.S. support can significantly help provide visible movement towards Pakistani development.
Resolving the Kashmir dispute and establishing a solid peace with India is critical to Pakistani civil development. But this could severely undermine the position of the army in Pakistani society, so requires a basic realignment of Pakistani politics. The military rivalry in Kashmir needs to be replaced with a economic one, with each nation judged on how well its portion of Kashmir succeeds in socioeconomic development. A lasting peace with India can only be set in the broader context of a resolution of the India-China-Pakistan strategic triangle.
The present unstable situation in Pakistan is the result of 60 years and more of poor decisions and weak international support of peace and development in South Asia. There is no short term solution, so stability and development will require time and concerted effort. The starting point for this effort has to be a vision of the end point, a vision of what Pakistan can be, a vision that has broad support among the Pakistani public.