Don’t Double Down On a Failed Approach To Pakistan

By Matthew Cameron

Following a spate of bad news out of Pakistan, Bloomberg View published an editorial today that argues for a revised framework to U.S.-Pakistani relations. The thesis of the argument is simple: “The U.S. has relied on a combination of about $20 billion in aid and empty threats over the past decade to persuade Pakistan to end its destructive behavior. This policy hasn’t been successful because it has been resisted by key Pakistani military and intelligence leaders.”So what is the authors’ solution? More aid and empty threats!

President Barack Obama could dispatch [Admiral Mike] Mullen to Islamabad with a strong message designed to persuade Pakistan to change course: In exchange for demonstrable efforts by Islamabad to crack down on terrorists and insurgents on its territory, the president would fight for additional military and economic aid, as well as increased access to the U.S. textile market….

And Pakistan should also be made to understand that a failure to change paths could lead to closer U.S. engagement with India. This could include encouraging greater Indian involvement in sensitive areas in Afghanistan. More importantly, Mullen could emphasize that intransigence will mean that the U.S. can no longer treat Islamabad as a friend. Such a change would have inevitable consequences: First, it would make it difficult, if not impossible, to dissuade India from retaliating if it were attacked by Pakistani-backed terrorist groups, as the U.S. did after the 2008 terror strikes in Mumbai. Second, should the U.S. be asked by India for assistance to identify and locate the perpetrators of a future attack, it would be difficult to turn down the request.

This hardly seems to represent a substantive change in the U.S. approach to dealing with Pakistan. For years, the U.S. has tied aid to the promise of improved cooperation from the Pakistani military in fighting terrorists. Yet this still hasn’t gotten the U.S. beyond the point where officials are unable to even share basic information with the Pakistani regime about upcoming anti-terror operations. And unless the U.S. winds down the Afghanistan war, it can’t really cut aid because it needs at least limited cooperation from Pakistan to carry on with the conflict.


As for bolstering U.S. support to India, that’s easier said than done. In particular, it would be virtually impossible to promote additional Indian involvement in Afghanistan or endorse retaliatory strikes against Pakistan in case of a terrorist attack because either would seriously destabilize the region.Obviously, it’s much more appealing to believe that if the U.S. sends just one more delegation or makes its threats sound a little more convincing then Pakistan will suddenly change its behavior. But this ignores the underlying dynamics shaping Pakistani attitudes toward the U.S., as well as the factors constraining U.S. policy options in South Asia.