Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Balance Sheet with Pakistan

With the newspapers abuzz today about the ongoing links between Pakistan's ISI and militants operating in Afghanistan, it may be a good time to review the series of choices as well as constraints that are on the table.

Washington would like Islamabad to do everything in Pakistan's power to destroy all militant groups operating in the western provinces and across the border in Afghanistan. If Pakistan can do more to take away the burden from the U.S. and NATO, so much the better.

Pakistan has a compelling interest in neutralizing Al-Qaeda, especially after 9/11. Indeed, 9/11 brought down a client regime and replaced it with a government in Afghanistan much more aligned with the West and--significantly for Pakistan--aligned with India. So Pakistan today has less of a compelling interest in necessarily destroying or liquidating the reviving Taliban and related groups. Pakistan is also working under the "bus station" approach (see Dan Byman's piece in the current issue of TNI)--using the conflicts in Kashmir and Afghanistan to draw away militants who otherwise might "stay at home." Finally, given India's efforts to use Afghanistan as a linchpin in its strategy to open up Central Asia and bypass Pakistan, being able to frustrate or destabilize those plans remains of interest to Pakistan.

The new government of Raza Gilani is not going to take on Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment if it cannot show some tangible results. The prime minister noted two such items: a nuclear deal for Pakistan similar to the U.S.-India one; and greater U.S. involvement on Kashmir.

The U.S. is not going to risk its emerging new relationship with India to put pressure on New Delhi to accommodate Pakistan's wishes in Kashmir or Afghanistan. Nor is a nuclear deal likely.

So where does this leave us: Pakistan is only going to offer cooperation to a certain degree--focusing on Al-Qaeda but otherwise working to "manage" rather than "liquidate" Taliban-style groups.

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