For Pakistan, the West Is a Scapegoat
In recent days, the world's attention has turned once again to the terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan. Last week, the American and British governments issued heightened travel alerts for continental Europe following revelations of an extremist plot hatched in Waziristan. The operationalization of this plot, which reportedly involved coordinated raids on European cities in the vein of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, resulted in a dramatic increase in U.S. drone strikes in northwestern Pakistan over the past month. On Monday, one such attack killed several German militants training in Pakistan's tribal regions. Also last week, a cross-border strike by NATO forces resulted in three Pakistani military deaths and the subsequent closure by Pakistan of vital supply routes to Afghanistan. This was followed by multiple militant raids on depots in Pakistan and the destruction of fuel and other supplies intended for NATO forces. And on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported the presence of a critical White House assessment that bluntly accused Pakistan of being unwilling to take action against militants on its soil.
The centrality of Pakistan has long been acknowledged by members of the counterterrorism community in the West. But Pakistan's approach to the festering terror threat at home -- alternatively defensive and lackadaisical -- has, due to the incapability or unwillingness of its government and security forces to take further action, ultimately been ineffective. For several reasons, the international community has demonstrated a high level of tolerance for Pakistan's apparent ambivalence. As underscored by the recent standoff, the United States and NATO remain dependent on Pakistan as a conduit for supplies to Afghanistan. The United States also lacks an adequate intelligence infrastructure in northwestern Pakistan and consequently relies on Pakistani agencies for their support. Additionally, Pakistan's nuclear weapons -- and the risks they pose both in terms of proliferation and escalation -- further limit the leverage of the United States and its partners.
The dominant Pakistani narrative is colored by several claims: that Western interests in South Asia are short-term and fickle, that Pakistan is limited in its capacity to act due to the threat to its east posed by India, and that the U.S. and NATO military presence in its region is fundamentally destabilizing. That these assessments are often based on selective facts, disavowals of responsibility, and conspiracy theories suggest a state in deep denial about the many problems it faces. It behooves the West to refute such views and instead advance the wider international community's assessment of the problems afflicting the region.
First, the West must make clear that it has a long-term interest in the region due to the nexus of challenges present there, from terrorism and WMD proliferation to political instability and energy security. Despite the announced July 2011 withdrawal date from Afghanistan, the United States underscored its commitment to Pakistan by agreeing last year to a long-term program of development aid.
For its part, India, appreciative of the potentially destabilizing consequences of assertiveness on its part, has to persevere with its admirable restraint in the face of acts of terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil with the connivance of elements of the Pakistani security community. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has risked domestic political support in his effort to forge a lasting peace with Pakistan, even though these efforts have been repeatedly undermined by the Pakistani foreign minister. Pakistan's nuclear deterrent, developed at considerable cost to the country, ought to be another source of security, but is rarely considered in discussions of the perceived Indian threat. The extent of Pakistani paranoia was made evident in a 56-page dossier presented to the United States by Pakistan in April, a dossier that contained a litany of unproven accusations against India.
Finally, the West's objective of a stable, pluralistic, and democratic Afghanistan at peace with itself and in its region must come to be shared by members of the Pakistani ruling elite, many of whom blame the United States and NATO for pushing militancy eastward and view the Karzai government in Kabul as inherently pro-Indian and anti-Pakistani. The United States' drone strikes, while much-maligned and used by Pakistani leaders and opinion-shapers to perpetuate anti-American sentiments, are in fact privately welcomed by the Pakistani leadership, with some reports even indicating active Pakistani collusion in drone operations. While by no means an adequate replacement for a counterinsurgency strategy, the strikes have been successful in decapitating the leadership of Pakistan-based terror groups, including groups bent on destabilizing Pakistan. As long as a full counterinsurgency campaign remains an unrealistic possibility, the drone strikes will continue to be employed out of necessity.
The exploitation of the United States' supposed vacillation and India's alleged belligerence against Pakistan, as well as popular outrage against the military endeavors of the United States and NATO, however justified, suggest a consistent strategy of Pakistani scapegoating that is unlikely to diminish despite the best efforts at the United States and its partners. U.S. officials have vented in private about the reluctance of Pakistani leaders to shape public opinion in the United States' favor. Rather than continue with a regional policy held hostage to Pakistan's whims, the United States and the West should consider alternatives that draw an end to its long-running charade. A necessary step may yet be a finely calibrated and targeted package of incentives and sanctions, for it seems that nothing less than such drastic coercive measures can align Pakistan's objectives with the West's, to the benefit of the long-suffering Pakistani people and regional and global security.