The Pakistan Disconnect

The NY Times reports that Pakistan is less than keen about the latest Marine offensive in southern Afghanistan, and I think Rob over at Arabic Media Shack has a pretty useful takeaway:

Manyin America, especially inside the COIN community, have becomefrustrated with Pakistan lately, wondering why they “don’t get it,” andwon’t develop their own Counter-Insurgency to take out pro-Talibanelements inside Pakistan. It’s quite simple actually: Pakistan and theU.S. do not have mutual interests in this case.Can we just admit this?

I’d add that Pakistan and the U.S. do not share a common perception of Pakistan’s interests in this case. And that’s because Pakistan and the U.S. are not using the same criteria to assess Pakistan’s interests.

The major point of disagreement, of course, is how realistic a threat India poses to Pakistan. For many in the U.S., Pakistan’s strategic preoccupation with India seems rooted in another age, when warfare was used to settle intractable political differences between states. It reminds me, in some respects, of how Europeans perceived the U.S. strategic preoccupation with Iraq in the run-up to what has since become known as the Iraq, um, War.

It also reminds me of a point Will Ferroggiaro and I discussed in our Bloggingheads segment, namely, the impact of history on national identities and strategic cultures. For Pakistan, of course, Pakistan’s strategic preoccupation with India is rooted in its lived history. In the same way that aversion to war is rooted in Europeans’ lived history. It’s ironic that many in the U.S. would now like to graft Europe’s presumption of pacifism onto Pakistan, at the same time that they’d like to graft Pakistan’s acceptance of the necessity of war onto the Europeans.

But 21st-century Asia is not post-WWII Europe. In fact, it reminds me more of pre-WWI Europe. Certainly, the U.S. should be working toward encouraging the regional governance and security architecture necessary to avoid an Asian sequel to the violent power-balancing of 20th-century Europe. And getting Pakistan to buy into that architecture is part of that effort. But overcoming history doesn’t happen overnight.

If we had a 10-year time horizon to get Afghanistan right, we mightbe able to help nudge India-Pakistan relations to the point whereIslamabad no longer considers the strategic depth the Taliban offernecessary. And even then, it’s not a sure bet that the India-Pakistanborder would be any less militarized than it is today.

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