Pakistan and the West

Towards Convergence or Conflict?

22/11/2011 | 13:00 - 14:30 | DGAP | Invitation only

Expert Round Table

Category: Pakistan, Security

The alliance between Pakistan and the U.S. has never been an easy one, but the tacit support of the Taliban uprising in Afghanistan through the military establishment in Pakistan has raised fundamental question on how to calibrate Western and American policies towards the country. Bruce Riedel from the Brookings Institution discussed the current situation in the country at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

The U.S. and Pakistan have been tied together for years in a very ambivalent alliance. Bruce Riedel, Senior Associate at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution pointed ways how the “deadly embrace” between Pakistan and the U.S. could be untangled.

The speech by Mr. Riedel made clear that Pakistan is in no way a country to be ignored. Pakistan is simply too centrally located geographically, too dynamic in its demographic development, too powerful by virtue of its nuclear arsenal, too dangerous in its ongoing rivalry with India and too critical in its role for the most important Western military operation: The ISAF-Mission in Afghanistan. A policy of indifference is thus not an option; neither for the Obama administration nor for his European counterparts.

Pakistan is paradoxically both a substantial supporter of terrorist organizations and insurgency groups, and yet also a principle victim of these very groups. The motivation for support groups that also Pakistan is hardly able to control, is the obsession of the military establishment with the Indian rival, whose influence in Afghanistan it seeks to limit. Meanwhile, the civilian government, although willing to take more decisive action against Al-Qaida and the Taliban, remains powerless and incapable of limiting the actions of military leaders and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

From this analysis Bruce Riedel drew two conclusions: First of all that Pakistan is not a reliable ally for the U.S., or Europe for that matter, in fighting both international terrorism and regional insurgencies. The U.S. should consequently maintain its capabilities for carrying out unilateral military operations in Pakistan. For this end military bases in Afghanistan would be indispensible, he said, since only the geographical proximity could make operations like the killing of Osama bin Laden possible. He emphasized, however, that drone-attacks in Pakistan are only a mixed blessing. While they are very effective in disrupting Al-Qaida and Taliban structures, they also carry the risk of profoundly alienating Pakistan’s population from America.

Secondly Riedel proposed that solely opting for a military answer to the Pakistani question will not be sufficient. Pakistan should not be left in isolation, but should instead be engaged diplomatically. The necessary strategy requires the selective exertion of military and diplomatic pressure on those individuals in the secret service and the army that organize the support for terrorist groups, while engaging the civilian government and progressive elements in the military. Thus, the right strategy combines elements of containment and engagement towards Pakistan directed at the respective groups in the government, military and secret service.          

Concluding, Riedel said that the only way for a long-term solution of the Pakistan-dilemma in American policy would be the gradual strengthening of the civilian government vis-á-vis the military. This, however, is a slow and troublesome process, since it pertains to very deep-seated structures of Pakistani politics – the reason why the Obama administration, although largely adopting a carefully calibrated policy towards Pakistan, has so far failed to achieve any lasting successes in this regard.  

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