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A Track Record of Progress in Pakistan
The Obama administration's commitment to building a strategic partnership with Pakistan saw two significant developments this weekend: the inking of a Pakistan-Afghanistan trade pact 45 years in the making, and the unveiling of a substantial new aid package. Attention to the partnership has accrued clear benefits for US security: militants operating in the region are under unprecedented pressure, with more suspected militants taken out in the first 15 months of Obama's presidency than in the last five years of the Bush administration. Improved intelligence cooperation was on display in the crackdown that followed the Faisal Shahzad arrest. And Pakistan has taken action against militants operating within its borders, which threaten the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.
Still-low Pakistani public opinion of U.S. policy and persistent doubts surrounding connections between extremist groups and elements of the Pakistani security apparatus show that there is more work left to be done. But the Obama administration's policies, particularly when weighed against the policies of its predecessors - which left this important relationship in a state of strategic drift - have produced successes that have benefited U.S. national security interests.
Recent developments in Pakistan bolster the Administration's comprehensive approach to securing a strategic U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Two major announcements came out of Pakistan this weekend as part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's two-day trip to the region. As Bloomberg reported this morning, "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced more than $500 million in new aid programs for Pakistan today with the bulk of the funds going to improve the management, access and storage of water. Other packages will combat infectious diseases, seek to boost food exports and provide credit to small- and medium-sized businesses." According to Bloomberg, the Obama administration "will also ask Congress to let Pakistan's military have excess U.S. defense equipment. Clinton made the announcements at the second U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, a forum on multiple issues, including energy and public diplomacy. Clinton said today that many Pakistanis thought U.S. involvement with their country is limited to security matters. ‘That this misperception has persisted for so long tells us that we have not done a good enough job of connecting our partnership with concrete improvements in the lives of Pakistanis,' she said. ‘We are working to change that.'"
Additionally, the Administration facilitated a trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a deal which the two countries have been trying to negotiate since 1965. According to the New York Times, "Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a landmark trade agreement on Sunday, auguring a thaw between these two perennially suspicious neighbors and handing the Obama administration a rare victory in its beleaguered war effort in Afghanistan. The United States had prodded the two countries to sign the accord, calculating that it would bolster the Afghan economy by expanding its trade routes and curbing rampant smuggling. The pact would cover a multitude of trade and transit issues, ranging from import duties to port access." As the Washington Post explained, the aid announcement and trade agreement are part of the Administration's overall approach in the region: "The trade and aid agreements are part of the administration's ongoing efforts to facilitate Obama's Afghanistan war strategy. It hopes that a long-term investment here, along with repeated visits from senior officials, will persuade Pakistan to more solidly align its interests with those of the United States." [Bloomberg, 7/19/10. NY Times, 7/18/10. Washington Post, 7/19/10]
Though not without challenges, improving U.S.-Pakistan relations have paid clear dividends. Such accomplishments as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman foreign assistance bill, and the strategic and economic dialogue have furnished clear and important results:
Bringing unprecedented pressure on radical groups: The American Security Project's "Are We Winning" report states that, "Ultimately, radical groups in South Asia are currently under more pressure than at any time since September 11, 2001. They are being squeezed by Pakistani and American military action, under siege from American aerial assault, facing a continued loss of popularity due to association with indiscriminate violence, and are hard-pressed to argue that their victory is inevitable." In May, the Center for American Progress's Ken Gude and Brian Katulis wrote that the Administration "has taken out three times more suspected militants in Pakistan in its first 15 months in office compared to the Bush administration's last five years." [ASP, 4/2/10. CAP, 5/4/10]
Intelligence cooperation to dismantle terrorist cells: According to the Washington Post and CNN, US and Pakistani authorities cooperated on the investigation of the Times Square attempted car bombing, leading to arrests in Pakistan of accomplices to Faisal Shahzad. Shahzad shared "useful information" with law enforcement officers that has led to at least seven reported arrests in Pakistan, reported Politico. [Washington Post, 5/14/10. CNN, 5/19/10. Politico, 6/17/10]
Crackdown on militant leadership threatening Afghanistan: "Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban's leadership...dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement. In total, seven of the insurgent group's 15-member leadership council, thought to be based in Quetta, Pakistan, including the head of military operations, have been apprehended in the past week, according to Pakistani intelligence officials." [CS Monitor, 2/24/10]
But major challenges remain, from counter-terrorism to the Pakistani people's extremely negative views of the US. As the Pakistani daily Dawn documented last month, a recent Pew survey found that "President Barack Obama's global popularity is not evident in Pakistan, and America's image remains as tarnished in that country as it was in the Bush years," with only 22 percent of Pakistanis thinking the U.S. foreign policy takes their interests into account. The New York Times reported earlier this month on the "deep connections" between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and the Haqqani Network, a militant group, which has emerged as a leading source of instability in Afghanistan. According to the Times, analysts see these connections as means for the ISI to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan. [Dawn, 6/18/10. NY Times, 7/13/10]
Obama administration's record stands in stark contrast to Bush administration's failures in Pakistan. In April 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on Pakistan and the status of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism within the region. The report, entitled The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas presented a damning case against the Bush administration, finding that "[t]he United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA..." and that, "No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed." In addition, the 9/11 Commission, an independent, bipartisan commission created in part to explore America's response to terrorism, concluded that Pakistan was a significant battlefield in the struggle against Islamist terrorism. Yet the Bush administration, unlike the Obama administration, never had a coherent plan to address this threat:
For years, the Bush administration had a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistan policy. The Bush administration's policy toward Pakistan has been "built around one person - and that is Musharraf," said Teresita C. Schaffer, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. [NY Times, 10/20/07]
The extremist threat grew worse under President Musharraf, while U.S. acted as his "ATM machine." Between the 9/11 attacks and 2007, the U.S. gave more than $10 billion in assistance to help President Musharraf wage Pakistan's campaign against terrorism. However, according to Pakistan expert Steven P. Cohen, the U.S. "wasted several billions of dollars, becoming Musharraf's ATM machine, allowing him to build up a military establishment that was irrelevant to his (and our) real security threat." [NSN, 7/24/08. Brookings Institution, 11/05/07]
The Bush administration lacked Pakistan experts. The Washington Post reported that under Bush, there was a "dramatic drop-off in US expertise on Pakistan." The piece also noted that, "Retired American officials say that, for the first time in US history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office." [Washington Post, 6/17/07]
What We're Reading
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Commentary of the Day
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