Pakistan is a country that appears to echo Winston Churchill’s description of Russia: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Even though it acts like an enemy at times, strategic necessity dictates that it must be treated as an ally. And despite the animus directed toward the United States by the majority of the populace and several factions in the government, both nations must pretend that all is peaches and cream and that the nearly $7 billion in aid the US is doling out over the next 5 years has a chance to alter the fact that much of the country wants to see the US defeated in Afghanistan.
A delegation headed up by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited Washington last week to hob nob with American officials on aid packages, military cooperation in the war on terror, and other bi-lateral concerns. But in many respects, it is what wasn’t discussed that reveals more about the current state of our relations with Pakistan than anything else.
Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf describes our relations with Pakistan as “making love to a cactus.” He writes:
The contrast between the meetings and the report reveal the core conundrum the Obama administration faces with regard to Pakistan. No country is home to more urgent risks. While near the top of the list of those risks are the presence and day-to-day violent agenda of al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other such militant organizations, at the very top is that the rational elements in the Pakistani government might lose control of some or all of the country’s nuclear arsenal. The United States seeks to shore up those rational elements — led in a practical sense more by [Army CIC General] Kayani than civilian officials — and collaborate with them in addressing the threats that President Obama himself has famously likened to a “cancer.” But in so doing, the United States must embrace a government that is fractured — divided in and against itself (within every sub-unit it seems, you find another split).
The catch is to figure out who’s on our side and who isn’t — a task made all the more difficult because for some of the players in Pakistan, it depends on which horse they are backing. For example, the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, apparently not only knew about the Mumbai attack before it happened, but was also in on some of the planning according to this article in the British Guardian. So the ISI is our enemy, right?
Not exactly. The intelligence agency has also been very generous in sharing information on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders hiding in the mountainous regions of Pakistan which has facilitated drone strikes that have killed many terrorists. And if that doesn’t confuse you, the fact that this same ISI assists the Afghanistan Taliban in planning operations that kill Americans will almost surely have your head spinning.
This is a conundrum without an easy solution. Pakistan is vital to our efforts in Afghanistan. It is a nuclear power at loggerheads with another ally and nuclear power India. It is on the frontline of the battle against terrorists, while engaging those terrorists at times to serve its own interests.