US and Pakistan: Is Partnership Possible?

5 mins read

afghanistan“We lost the chance to influence an entire generation of officers,” says a US official at the embassy in Pakistan. This lamentation points to a critical need during the present counterinsurgency, namely enhanced cooperation with Pakistan.

As the US ramps up its efforts in Afghanistan, with the recently announced surge of 30,000 additional combat troops, it is essential that cooperation be enhanced between US forces and Pakistani allies, fighting the insurgency on each side of the border.

Pakistan is currently at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is approximately 1500 miles and Taliban units train and hide in the border regions between the two nations. The Pakistani military and government have rejected allowing US troops to enter Pakistan to fight the insurgency there. That leaves the Pakistani military and intelligence services with the responsibility on their side of the border. The military has launched relatively successful campaigns in Swat and South Waziristan earlier this year.

In order to greater facilitate battling the insurgency, cooperation, particularly in intelligence, must increase between the two countries. However, there are a number of obstacles to greater cooperation.

During the Cold War, Pakistan and the US maintained relatively close military ties. Military officers from Pakistan would go to the US for education and training opportunities. For example, the current chief of staff for the Pakistani Army, General Asfaq Kayani, attended a training course at Fort Bragg, GA. The older Pakistani officers who have had the benefit of such training and education tend to have better relations with their current US counterparts.

However, the fall of the Berlin Wall began to alter the relationship between the two countries. After Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, the US government severed military ties with Pakistan in retaliation. From 1990-2002, as a result of the Pressler Amendment, the US had no military ties to Pakistan. Thus, Pakistani officers went for education and training to the Middle East and China.

There are also some cultural issues with increased cooperation. Pakistanis are generally suspicious of the United States, particularly the military and intelligence services. Pakistanis tend to be suspicious of potential US interference in domestic affairs, as was highlighted by the outcry to the recent aid package approved by Congress. Recent polls conducted in Pakistan also suggest that a significant portion of the population still believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy instigated by the US government. The US currently does not seek to engage the conspiracy theories propagated throughout the Pakistani media (instead treating them the way conspiracy theories are treated in this country). However, the ambassador of Pakistan, Husain Haqqani, believes that the US must engage the conspiracy theories if they are to improve relations and perceptions within Pakistan.

On the US side, older intelligence professionals are deeply suspicious of Pakistani intelligence as well. However, some of the distrust seems to be eroding as the US military watches successful Pakistani military and intelligence operations. Also, the building of personal relationships, particularly through a military officer exchange program, is also helping to overturn some previously held prejudices.

The US and Pakistan currently have an exchange program that is set to double in the next year. However, more needs to be done and at a faster rate to significantly improve the cooperation and trust between both sides. This could be best accomplished by US personnel working towards growing real relationships with counterparts in Pakistan. With the advent of modern technology, the slow bureaucratic practices of using the exchange program can be overcome. Pakistani officers do not need to head the US and US personnel do not have to enter Pakistan. It is necessary to, at the very least, build some nascent relationships that can be built upon in the future. But leveraging social media platforms and other modern communications methods would be a good place to start.

If the US fails to quickly build its partnership base, we will lose the ability to successful contain and defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan. While more US troops can certainly cut down on the number of insurgent fighters, we need cross border cooperation to ensure that insurgents have no place safe to run to. That will leave them with two options: surrender or die.

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