The US has historically had a close relationship with Pakistan. In the Cold War, India was closely allied with the Soviet Union. To counter that, the US developed a close strategic relationship with Pakistan. The relationship, like any, has had its fair share of ups and downs. In the days after 9/11 it became very apparent that there were significant Al Qaeda ties to various regions of Pakistan, and with the fall of the Taliban in 2001, it was rumored that Osama bin Laden had escaped from Afghanistan into tribal areas of Pakistan, still hiding there to this day.
Pakistan, if it wanted to remain in the good graces of the US, had to play ball with us when it comes to Afghanistan. But, no matter what the Pakistani government’s official position is with regards to the US in the region, America is widely reviled by the population (not to mention large segments of the military and the government, but not ‘officially’). The US has found it increasingly necessary to conduct military strikes within Pakistan in order to purse Taliban militants and the remnants of Al Qaeda. And, unfortunately, sometimes those strikes have resulted in the deaths of Pakistani civilians and soldiers, further stoking their anger. There have been reprisals against US and NATO targets in the northern provinces of Pakistan, but that seems to be spreading.
Insurgents attacked 27 fuel trucks in the southern province of Sindh today, marking the first instance of armed strikes taking place against US and NATO targets in what is viewed to be the more stable southern section of the country.
Pakistan is a reluctant ally. They’re our ally, not out of conviction, but out of necessity. We’ve showered them with tens of billions of dollars of military aid in the past decade, in order for them to develop their own capabilities to hold their own against Islamic insurgents, to help us out with the Afghan border and in order to establish more stability in the frontier provinces of Pakistan. The efficacy of that aid is debatable. Has it really helped us? It doesn’t seem apparent. Has it hurt us? Not yet. But remember, we’ve armed our own enemies in the past, namely Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, at least when it suited us.
Bob Woodward, in his new Book Obama’s Wars, outlines an exchange that Gen. Jim Jones, National Security Advisor and Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA had with the president of Pakistan on May 19th of this year. When Jones and Panetta sat down with Asif Ali Zardari and outlined the need to take further measures against terrorism following the attempted Times Square bombing earlier this year, Zardari just didn’t get it. When informed that if there was a terrorist attack in the US that seemed to come from Pakistan, Zardari thought it would bring the two countries closer, not drive a wedge between. Panetta and Jones were floored. Later, they had another meeting with the chief of Pakistan’s military, General Ashfaq Kayani, a figure that has far more influence in the country than the President Zardari. When Kayani was pressed by the two to take measures to increase the effectiveness of our campaign against Islamic insurgents within Pakistan, his basic answer was a resounding ‘No.’
So, on the one hand, you have an incompetent civilian leadership that doesn’t know what’s going on, and even if they did, it doesn’t really matter, because the military is running the show. And on the other hand, you have a military that has the power to help NATO, but isn’t interested.
When everything is said and done, it’s the United States and NATO that’s trying to stabilize the region. And while Afghanistan and Pakistan are officially our allies, they’re not stepping up. No matter how many men, no matter how much money we throw at the problem, if the stakeholders in the regions aren’t committed, our actions are ultimately not enough. And we need to realize that when we think about what kind of a commitment we’re willing to make in the region.