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Reviews |  US policy towards Pakistan cannot be confined to Afghanistan

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Reviews | US policy towards Pakistan cannot be confined to Afghanistan

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For decades, US policy toward Pakistan has been based on US objectives in Afghanistan. Pakistan has both aided and hindered the United States’ war on terrorism, creating a notoriously dysfunctional relationship. Now the United States is out of Afghanistan and relations are fragile. It’s time to reinvent it.

The United States must treat Pakistan as a country in its own right, and not as a backbone of American policy on Afghanistan. It starts with America emerging from close military ties with Pakistan.

A reset won’t be easy: resentment is rife. America sees Pakistan’s support for the Taliban as one of the reasons it lost in Afghanistan; Pakistan sees the Taliban insurgency it faced at home as a flashback to its partnership with America next door. In Washington, the gloomy mood led to talk of disengagement and sanctions. Neither approach will work or be satisfactory in the long term.

Pakistan, meanwhile, wants an expanded relationship with the United States focused on geoeconomics, which is unrealistic.

Instead, the Biden administration appears to be embracing the status quo by default: largely limiting engagement with Pakistan to Afghanistan, primarily for counterterrorism options on the horizon. It sets up a repeat of the old failed cycle, missing the opportunity to pull Pakistan away from its own excessive and nefarious dependence on the military into a more productive future.

It would be smarter and safer for the United States to move towards a multidimensional approach that recognizes the realities of the country and its neighborhood. Pakistan is a nuclear weapon country with a population of over 220 million, a neighbor not only of Afghanistan but also of Iran and close friend of Pakistan, China and an endowed rival. nuclear weapon, India. Pakistan faces immense national challenges, especially in governance and terrorism. It also has untapped economic potential.

The first and most important step in this pivot would be to explicitly reduce America’s dependence on its usual partner in Pakistan: the military and intelligence services. While the Pakistani military is seen as more effective than its civilian institutions, it has repeatedly shown that its incentives are not aligned with those of the United States.

The United States’ dependence on the Pakistani military has weighed on the civil-military equation, as evidenced by how military spending accounts for around 16% of Pakistan’s annual spending. (U.S. military spending is 11 percent.) Pakistan’s dominant military has kept the specter of a potential conflict with India active, and its intelligence services have cultivated relationships with a range of armed non-state actors. dangerous.

A US civilian-centric policy will help Pakistan begin to upset its military balance and, in the longer term, strengthen Pakistani democracy. While this certainly does not guarantee liberalism in Pakistan, it may ultimately curb military-favored approaches – including relations with the jihadists – that have proven to be harmful to the region and to Pakistan itself.

Concretely, this will mean that the secretaries of the American cabinet will make fewer calls to the heads of the Pakistani army and more to the civilian ministers. This will mean that President Biden should finally make a long-awaited appeal to the Pakistani prime minister to discuss China, India, the fight against terrorism and the economy, not just cooperation on Afghanistan. .

This approach carries risks. The Pakistani military and intelligence services will not be happy with this degradation of their status, and they may choose to retaliate by reducing cooperation in areas such as intelligence sharing or limiting access to airspace. Pakistani for counterterrorism operations. This approach might also appear to ask the US government to ignore past problems with Pakistan (especially its support for the Taliban) and will require a level of generosity that some believe Pakistan does not deserve. But the benefits of such a reset – stronger Pakistani civil institutions, which will mean a more reliable partnership both diplomatically and militarily for the United States – will ultimately outweigh the short-term risks.

Once the United States’ dependence on the Pakistani military is explicitly and clearly reduced, American policy towards Pakistan can be oriented towards economic and other forms of engagement. It can be a step by step process.

First, America and Pakistan should look for ways to boost trade. (The United States is Pakistan’s number one export destination, but Pakistan is the United States’ 56th largest trading partner.) Washington could, for example, provide technical support to industries like textiles while specifying that Pakistan must produce and market its products at competitive prices. Second, US companies should be encouraged to consider investments in Pakistan, which could be a strong incentive for Pakistan to further improve its investment climate.

America can engage with Pakistan in other ways as well, such as helping it tackle its huge air pollution problem. A commitment that is not contingent on security concerns wins hearts and minds in Pakistan.

That’s not to say that there won’t be a need for an Afghan element in this new approach, given that America still needs Pakistan’s help with the counterterrorism options on the horizon to deal with it. threats from militant groups in Afghanistan. Moreover, America wants Pakistan to refuse to recognize the Taliban. But that should only be one – not all – aspect of US-Pakistan politics.

This new approach can put the relationship in a more constructive direction in the longer term, compared to the alternative: a political menu of disengagement and sanctions.

The disengagement may satisfy the Pakistani hawks in Washington, but it leads to a spurious policy. It reduces America’s influence over Pakistan in the event of a conflict with India and ignores the reality of Pakistan’s nuclear status and national struggle with terrorist groups. The disengagement also risks pushing Pakistan even further into the arms of China, which is not inevitable. (China has pledged Pakistan $ 62 billion as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, although the project has seen slowdowns.)

As for the sanctions: not only did the US sanctions against Pakistan in the 1990s fail to curtail its nuclear program, but also the Pakistani take-away was to guard against a future US abandonment – which to its tour contributed in part to its two-track policy after 2001.

In addition, there is ample evidence that widespread sanctions make foreign policy ineffective. And their effect is limited when other countries do not sign. More effective and multilateral tools exist to shape Pakistan’s behavior, such as the Financial Action Task Force, an international watchdog monitoring terrorist financing. Its inclusion on Pakistan’s gray list in 2018 prompted the country to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba and other jihadist groups.

To be fair, it won’t be easy to shift the American approach to Pakistan wholesale. Decades of US politics have seen Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan, and government inertia makes change difficult. Mr. Biden focuses on the Indo-Pacific. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s critical statements about the United States did not go well in Washington, and his decision to skip Mr. Biden’s democracy summit may have left a bitter taste. The Pakistani army will not be happy. But such a policy change is possible, if done deliberately and correctly.

The change would be in line with the Biden administration’s foreign policy framework on great power competition, usefully preventing Pakistan from gravitating further towards China.

Pakistan is both important and complicated. There are no quick fixes when it comes to reinventing a new policy, but the United States now has an opportunity to steer the relationship in a potentially more productive direction. Washington should give it a shot.

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