Will It Even Matter If U.S.-Pakistan Ties Collapse Altogether?

Will It Even Matter If U.S.-Pakistan Ties Collapse Altogether?
Pakistani religious students protest against U.S. President Donald Trump after the U.S. decision to suspend military aid to Islamabad, Lahore, Pakistan, Jan. 5, 2018 (AP photo by K.M. Chaudary).

Soon after 9/11, President George W. Bush recognized that the United States needed Pakistan’s cooperation to eradicate the training camps in Afghanistan where al-Qaida planned the attacks. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared that his nation was a full partner in the new “war on terror.” A few years later, Bush designated Pakistan a major non-NATO ally. Since 2002, Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in economic and security assistance from the United States, while the American military greatly expanded cooperation with its Pakistani counterpart.

But this was always a deeply troubled partnership. Pakistan, especially the politically dominant Pakistani military, defined its national interests very differently than the United States, seeing a weak or conflict-ridden Afghanistan as a benefit rather than a threat. As a result, Pakistan provided sanctuary to some extremist groups targeted by the United States or, at least, did not make a major effort to exterminate or expel them. For years, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network have killed Americans in Afghanistan, then retreated to their bases in Pakistan. Al-Qaida’s leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, have lived in and plotted from Pakistan, as did long-time Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The Bush and Obama administrations struggled mightily with this problem. They recognized the importance of intelligence-sharing with Pakistan and depended on Pakistani ports to support the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan. But they were also appalled at Islamabad’s support for extremist movements. Both administrations tried a variety of means to alter Pakistani behavior, blending threats and inducements. Nothing worked.

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