An Ultimatum to Islamabad

The New York Times informs us that according to officials in both the US and Pakistan that the Obama Administration "is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan." According to the Times, the rather blunt message was delivered in a tense encounter in Pakistan last month during a high level visit by Gen. James L. Jones, the National Security Adviser, and John O. Brennan, the White House Counterterrorism Chief, to Islamabad. Then and there in a meeting with the heads of Pakistan's military and its intelligence service, the ISI, we again repeated what we have so often told the Pakistani leadership. Get on with it if you would please. Now would be good.

According to US officials with knowledge of the "blunt talks" amongst friends, this oft-repeated warning did not amount to an ultimatum, but rather it was intended to prod a reluctant Pakistani military to go after Taliban insurgents in Pakistan who are directing attacks in Afghanistan. Oh and by the way, here is $2.3 billion in military aid this year for your efforts another $2.3 billion next year. Certainly, that is a bit of a mixed message.

Our economic aid package takes a more direct approach. The recently passed bipartisan Kerry-Lugar Pakistan Assistance Act authorizes a grant of $1.5 billion in economic aid annually over the next five years. Mind you since the Kerry-Lugar package does come with conditions, this has not pleased many quarters in Pakistan.

Shayan Khan of the Pakistan Spectator is typical. Back in October he wrote:

Pakistan's concerns over Kerry-Lugar bill are there for sure, but they are not that important. The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has backed a bill that would triple economic assistance for Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, to 7.5 billion dollars over five years. But it perhaps come as a surprise for the Kerry that Pakistanis don't really think much of any aid or such things. They want US to take them as humans like themselves and to understand that the people dying from the drone attacks are 99% Pakistanis, and only perhaps 1% are anything to do with militancy. (The) war on terror has given Pakistan the gory gifts of suicide attacks and bomb blasts and the economic life in Pakistan has come to a grinding halt.

While the ratio of non-combatants to militants killed in the stepped up drone attacks is more likely 1:3, the perception in Pakistan is that it is 99:1. That's certainly a problem but even more of a problem is the view that Pakistan's problems stem from the US-led war against the radical Islam and not from radical Islam itself. Never mind that Pakistan has outsourced its education system to Saudi-funded madrassas that teach particular virulent strains of Islam. The Pakistanis are seemingly oblivious to this problem.

Instead of funding an educational system, Pakistan prefers to invest in tanks. Pakistan spends only 2.3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education - the lowest level of any country in South Asia - as compared to 3.6 percent on average for other nations in Asia and 3.4 percent in low-income countries overall. This puts Pakistan in the bottom quarter of countries world-wide. Military spending, meanwhile, accounts for 3.5 percent of GDP, an amount that places Pakistan in the top quarter of countries world-wide. The result of inadequate funding for education is that only about half of Pakistani adults can read and write, compared to 92 percent in Sri Lanka and 60 percent in India.

For Adil Najam, the Frederick S. Pardee Professor of Global Public Policy at Boston University, writing in All Things Pakistan, the Kerry-Lugar Act speaks to a "deficit trust" and to a "tainted relationship."

For its [Pakistani] critics the answer is straight-forward and can be summarized in one word: conditionality. The critic's wrath is not really about what the Kerry-Lugar Bill promises; it is about what the Kerry-Lugar Bill demands. Call it concerns about sovereignty, about imperialism, about national pride, or whatever else, but many Pakistanis are clearly feeling insulted because they think they have been presented with a `bill of demands' and being asked to sell out cheap.

One can dissect things deep in search of hidden meanings and clues. Too many people are already doing that and it really does not help. The problem is deep. But it is not hidden.

The debate we are now seeing is one more manifestation of the deep deficits of trust that have marked all US-Pakistan relations. In the absence of trust, Pakistanis - even those who might otherwise support this Bill - simply refuse to accept that America could possibly be interested in Pakistan's interests. For the very same reasons, Americans - even those who strongly wish to see a stronger Pakistan - simply refuse to acknowledge the intensity with which Pakistan has always sought "friends, not masters."

The fact of the matter is that if the U.S. had any trust whatsoever in the Pakistani state or the Pakistani people, this Bill would not have been crafted in the language it is. By the same token, if Pakistanis had any trust whatsoever in the United States their reaction would not have been what it is even if the Bill were written as it is. The US-Pakistan relationship is a most reluctant international relationship. The Kerry-Lugar Bill is a good example of this. Here is support that the Americans would much rather never have been `made' to give to Pakistan. Here is support that Pakistanis would much rather never have been `made' to accept.

And herein lies the real problem of Pakistan-US relations. Neither trusts the other. Each can give many reasons - and some of them, in each case, are very valid - why, but that matters little. The result is a tainted and reluctant relationship.

Professor Najam is correct. The relationship is tainted, perhaps even beyond repair. While we can be accused of having abandoned Pakistan in the 1990s - one Pakistani General suggested that US treated Pakistan as a discarded used condom - the reality is also the Pakistani élites (one percent of the population) lack a developmentalist ethos and treat the country's 160 million people as feudal subjects on a medieval manor and more critically much of the Pakistani military and intelligence services has an India obsession and continue to perceive that the greatest threat to Pakistan as lying across the plains of the Punjab and not within its own territory. To expect this segment of the Pakistani establishment to change their deep-seeded paranoia is futile. It's hard to know who is more irrational the Pakistani leadership or us with our hopes that Pakistan's élites have turned some proverbial corner. At times, it is hard to tell who is the pawn and who is the chess master. Certainly, we have been played as fools by Pakistani generals in the past.

For years we have heard this refrain "Pakistan's civilian and military leaders must finally be persuaded that this is not just America's war, but rather this fight is central to their own survival." And we continue to utter such blunt and stern messages at all too frequent regular intervals to no avail.

The Obama Administration prides itself on its "realist" approach to vexing foreign policy issues. If such is the case, then the Administration should proceed with a tersely worded and explicit ultimatum to Islamabad and moreover be prepared to act unilaterally as needed. Otherwise, we are simply enabling the most dysfunctional bilateral relationship on the planet. And if the Administration is not prepared to countenance such measures, then perhaps it should rethink its Afghan escalation. For if success is in any way predicated on getting Pakistan to act decisively (and in the view of at least some in the Pakistani establishment against Pakistan's own national interests), then such policy is doomed to failure.

Tags: Obama Administration, pakistan, US Foreign Policy, US-Pakistan Relations (all tags)



Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

What do you mean by "act unilaterally if needed?"

by kaleidescope 2009-12-08 04:34AM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

That last paragraph is very carefully crafted.

If the premise of success of the Af-Pak strategy is dependent on Pakistan living up to its commitments, then I would be very pessimistic on its chances.

by Charles Lemos 2009-12-08 06:19AM | 0 recs
I'm sorry but this was long time coming. I think

this has even reached the patience of President Obama. Pakistan needs to stop sheltering Mullah Omar and Quetta Shura, who are coordinating most of the attacks in Afghanistan. One of the recent news was that Omar was moved to Karachi by ISI to prevent being targetted by American drones who are increasing their sphere of activity to cover Quetta region (Baluchistan).

by louisprandtl 2009-12-08 05:17AM | 0 recs

I have a jaundiced view of Pakistan, no doubt.

I have long felt the important bilateral relationship is with India. Having said this, I have a deep sympathy for the Pakistani people who have suffered decades of the most misbegotten rule of any country in Asia.

To expect Pakistani elites to change is illusory. They have a predatory feudal mentality.

Go figure, this post got picked up by The Atlantic and the New York Daily News.

by Charles Lemos 2009-12-08 06:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Yup

This is a very well written post... your words expressed my own thoughts very well, except I just do not have the same ability.  So I am not surprised it got picked probably echoes the emotions for many.

And yes, Pakistan's most important bilateral relationship is with India ~ they will not progress until they accept that.  Their current relationship is defined almost by a childlike need to see monsters under the bed where they dont exist.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-08 06:31AM | 0 recs
A question

Do you have a link for this Mullah Omar story...I had not seen it before.

Another individual is Dawood Ibrahim...he lives a good life in Pakistan; his son is married to the daughter of a Pakistani cricketing hero.  He is the mastermind of the 1992 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai!

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-08 06:35AM | 0 recs
Re: A question

I saw those reports back in November, maybe October in either The Hindustan Times or the Times of India.

by Charles Lemos 2009-12-08 06:39AM | 0 recs
by Ravi Verma 2009-12-08 06:52AM | 0 recs
Actually Karachi is potentially a volatile

situation. Earlier elements of Pakistan Taliban moved into Karachi creating a haven for fundamentalists. However Karachi is dominated by MQM which is secular in nature but have a long history of political violence when threatened. In this case Taliban presence amongst Pushtoons created lot of tension between Pushtoons and Mujahirs in Karachi. ISI's move to place Quetta Shura in Karachi is potentially adding fuel to the smoldering cauldron.

by louisprandtl 2009-12-08 07:10AM | 0 recs
It was a Washington Times story from

last month. Below I see you have found another source. nov/20/taliban-chief-takes-cover-in-pak istan-populace

by louisprandtl 2009-12-08 07:02AM | 0 recs
Doomed to failure ?

Those are strong words.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-08 06:32AM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

If the story on the US sending troops into Pakistan is true, it is nothing but sheer arrogance and stupidity.

Think of it beyond the jingoism that characterizes so much analysis of this issue - the central argument behind supporting such an argument of unilateral US action in Pakistan is that the US offensive in Afghanistan may fail if the Taliban are able to retreat into FATA in Pakistan. Well then, if Pakistan is uncooperative, how on earth does the US offensive into FATA do anything other than push the Taliban deeper into Pakistan into new safe havens and further destabilize Pakistan and push even more people into supporting the Taliban? Such a move would undermine the Pakistani government and possibly push for an overthrow of that government by extremist elements who would then argue the GoP's acquiescence to what essentially amounts to an invasion of Pakistan by the US. All this against a Pakistani government that is extremely unpopular as it is, barely keeping afloat and already considered a US lackey and associated with the deeply unpopular Musharraf.

Once you get beyond the braggadocio of it all, the US threat is that we will cut off our nose to spite Pakistan if they do not cooperate, since unilateral US action in Pakistan will only destabilize the region further, and therefore move the US goals even further out of reach.

The key to getting Pakistani support remains understanding what exactly Pakistan would need to do to tackle the Afghan Taliban threat and what constrains it from doing so. What Pakistan needs to do to tackle the Afghan Taliban threat is put tens of thousands of more troops into North Waziristan and elsewhere in FATA. Pakistan already has 30,000+ troops in South Waziristan, another 30,000 in Swat, and tens of thousands elsewhere in FATA. The tens of thousands needed for attacking the Haqqani network in NW would be in addition to the ones mentioned above.

Now, what constrains Pakistan from doing so? Aside from the belief that the US will eventually 'cut and run' and abandon the region once again leaving Pakistan with an enemy in the Taliban that will likely overrun large parts of Afghanistan and then focus on Pakistan, the troops required need to be moved from the Eastern border with India, where the Indian COAS made a statement just days ago that the Indian military saw a possibility for 'limited War' in the Indo-Pak context despite nuclear weapons.

That is a very serious concern from the Pakistani perspective. Moving troops from the Eastern border can only be done then if the US can either provide guarantees that it will militarily and economically deter Indian from attacking Pakistan while it is engaged in the West, or if the US can bolster Pakistan's conventional military capability enough for Pakistan to feel comfortable relocating military assets from the East to the West.

At the end of the day, the Pakistani Military can reclaim territory lost to the Taliban, it will likely not be able to reclaim territory lost to the Indian military if they attack while Pakistan is busy in the West.

The policy outlined publicly by administration officials offering a strategic partnership and accelerated military support (which needs to go beyond just COIN support) IMO remains the only viable means of getting the Pak Military to shift assets from the Eastern front to the Western front.

by MZBH 2009-12-08 08:25AM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

The fallacy that India will launch an attack on Pakistan while Pakistan is busy in the West is something that needs to be destroyed.

If Pakistan was to simply crack down on all the militants it harbors openly, it wouldn't have such a tense relationship with India.

by vecky 2009-12-08 09:08AM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

It is not a fallacy given the comments of the Indian COAS in favor of 'limited war', the Indian destabilization of East Pakistan and subsequent invasion in 1971, or the occupation of Siachen.

The situation could also be resolved were India to implement the UNSC resolutions calling for a UN adminstered plebiscite that would allow Kashmiris to determine their status as part of Pakistan or India.

Funny that American sermons on 'freedom and the rights of people' go out the door when they stand to make a buck off the entity violating that 'right to freedom' or have some strategic interests with them.

UN resolutions are apparently only good as long as they relate to Iraq and Iran, and justify US wars and sanctions.

Hypocrisy of the highest order.

by MZBH 2009-12-08 09:16AM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

What liked of Pakistani propaganda have you been listening too?

by vecky 2009-12-08 05:46PM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

If India did not launch a limited war in the hours after the Mumbai attacks, when all that Pakistan had to offer was denials, then I dont think India will launch a limited war when Pakistani troops are off fighting the Taliban... specially if the Pakistani troops are fighting both the good, and the bad Taliban.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-08 10:08AM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

India did not launch a war because the Pak Military was prepared and did not have the assets in the West that it does now.

If the assets required to take on the Afghan Taliban in NW are removed from the Eastern front, along with the additional manpower to secure cities from dispersing Taliban (just note the carnage right now with only the TTP being assaulted) then that moves a significant chunk of Pakistan's military away from the East, and removes the deterrence factor (against India) that prevented India from attacking Pakistan after Mumbai.

So I don't see your argument as holding weight, especially given the Indian COAS's comments on 'limited war'. The US needs to provide some sort of assurance that Indian aggression will be prevented, or bolster Pakistan's conventional capacity to ward off such a threat.

by MZBH 2009-12-08 01:13PM | 0 recs
Re: An Ultimatum to Islamabad

I think the best assurance Pakistan can achieve is that it can prevent it's territory from being used as a base for those who plan attacks against India or other nations.

And face it. Pakistan has nukes. Nukes are Pakistans deterrent, they don't need 1 soldier on the Eastern border.

by vecky 2009-12-08 10:21PM | 0 recs
India did not launch a war

because Manmohan Singh is a wise old man!!

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-13 05:00PM | 0 recs
Let's destabilize Cambodia, I mean

Pakistan, because it allows sanctuary to the Viet C-- I mean Taliban.

by fairleft2 2009-12-08 09:46AM | 0 recs
I was in Pakistan recently

Around 2 weeks ago.

The Pakistani 'elite' (middle and upper middle class strata of society) are highly behind the war against terror right now.

Just recently, the terrorists have bombed a hotel, police station, and even the Pakistani spy agency.

The elite finally know they are fighting a monster of their own doing, and they are dead set on it.

So yes, I am very hopeful that we have a good partner in Pakistan (finally!).

During the campaign, Obama was very admanant that if the Pakistani authorities seemed to be dragging their feet, then the American troops would be given the green light for temporary incursions through the border.

Like I said earlier, I am very hopeful.

by Dickie Simpkins 2009-12-08 10:29PM | 0 recs


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