The U.S. has been relying on Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror in the region and has provided the country with billions of dollars in aid over the last 15 years.
But American military and diplomatic officials have time and again expressed concerns about Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to crack down on terrorists and extremists that are based in the country.
As the new U.S. administration is positioning itself to address some of the pressing foreign policy challenges in the region, experts offer mixed recommendations as to what approach the new administration should pursue in its relations with Pakistan.
“People are much smarter about what the region needs, the challenges, where the policy works and where it doesn’t,” said Shamila Chaudhary, a senior South Asia fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“We actually have built a pretty significant infrastructure to address what the problems are. What we don’t have are any answers, and that’s what I think we need to focus on when we talk about a review,” she added while speaking at a panel discussion on U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
Last 10 years a failure?
Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argued that U.S. policy toward Pakistan in the last 10 years has been a failure.
“I would propose that as a starting point, we do look at the failure of our Pakistan policy over the last 10 years,” Curtis said. “I would say that we need a clear eyed approach on just how detrimental Pakistan’s continued support has been to fundamental U.S. national security interests.”
She added, “15 years later we still have Taliban and the Haqqani network sanctuaries inside Pakistan.”
Former U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Daniel Feldman pushed back against Curtis’ analysis.
“I tend to disagree with Lisa’s analysis about it [U.S. policy] being purely a failure. What I believe is that there are many equities that we have with the U.S. Pakistan relationship, all of which we have tried to address in some way or another,” Feldman said. “Certainly over the tenure of the Obama administration we had highs of significant bilateral cooperation relationship with the strategic dialogue, with assistance and we also had lows.”
Cutting aid did not work
Feldman added that at times the U.S. has gone as far as cutting all assistance to Pakistan, and none of those measures necessarily produced a result in which the U.S. has been able to influence or change Pakistan’s core strategic calculus.
John Gill an associate professor at the National Defense University, argued that a review should not mean starting all over again.
“It makes a lot of sense to have a new review, but that does not necessarily mean that we have to change. If there are pieces of the strategy that seem to be on track or going in the right direction, we should not be afraid to stick with those even if they are holdovers from previous administrations,” Gill said.
US should take the risk
Some analysts propose that the U.S. should adopt a different approach to changing Pakistan’s behavior.
“I think in the past whenever we thought about imposing conditions or actually implementing conditions on Pakistan you bring up the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state and the conversation sort of ends,” Curtis of Heritage said. “I would argue that our counter-terrorism interests in the region are so fundamental that we need to be willing to take some degree of risk in evoking a different Pakistani response.”
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States and director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, thinks there is a two-way street when it comes to getting Pakistan to change its behavior.
“I think most people agree that Pakistan needs to change its behavior on terrorism, and in relation to Afghanistan and India, and that change is unlikely to come without the rest of the world changing its policies towards Pakistan,” Haqqani said.
Haqqani who co-authored a new policy paper on U.S.-Pakistan relations with Lisa Curtis, argues that American interests in the region are not in line with Pakistan’s strategic thinking, which is heavily influenced by its belief that India wants to weaken and break it.
“Continued U.S. assistance, offered in the hope of a gradual change in Pakistan’s terrorism policies, only provides Pakistan an economic cushion and better quality military equipment to persist with those policies,” argued Haqqani.
In their defense, Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders have argued that they have sacrificed in the war against terror and have paid with blood and treasure. The country’s State Bank published a report late last year, alleging a $110 billion loss to the country’s economy since 2002.
Pakistan could do more
U.S officials acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts and view U.S.-Pakistan relations as important.
“The Pak-U.S. relationship remains a very important one,” General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, said last week during testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
However, U.S. officials continue to assert that Pakistan could do more.
“We have seen progress. We have seen them take some steps to address these safe havens, but clearly the problem persists and it is something, which is part of our ongoing conversation with Pakistan,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner.