Pakistan is apparently closing a NATO supply line into Afghanistan following an incident in which three Pakistani border troops were killed in a NATO helicopter raid. While other entry routes into Afghanistan from Pakistan remain open, and the US is talking with Pakistan to clear everything up, this incident highlights the fragility of our avenues into Afghanistan. Whether we love or hate Pakistan’s leadership we need Pakistan, if for no other reasons than logistics.
Recall that the number of US bases and transit centers in the region is woefully small. Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan are about it. And last year Kyrgyzstan voted to close the US base, then changed their mind and accepted higher rent payments, then overthrew their President (the Manas Base was among many points of contention opposition leaders had with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev) and then accepted another rent increase. We need Kyrgyzstan, and we need Pakistan more.
Our fundamental need for Pakistan despite our multiple problems with the country is illustrated by what the Christian Science Monitor calls “lavish support” the US gives Pakistan. Between 2001 and 2009 Pakistan received $5.3 billion in US aid, numbers which put Pakistan in the top ranks of countries receiving aid.
The interesting thing to me about this whole affair is how little the US can trust Pakistan (for damn good reasons) but how much we need them to even attempt success in Afghanistan (how you define success is wildly debatable, but we’ll need Pakistan for most versions). The crumbling of Pakistan’s civilian leadership is a disaster waiting to happen.
To many the question is not whether the military with oust the civilian leadership, but how soon. Others note that between floods, corruption, militants, bad economy and wars there are too many crises for even the military to handle. The military is accruing goodwill with signs noting that "In tough times, the Pakistan army is with you," on relief supplies to flooded regions but that doesn’t mean they’d be welcomed back to power with open arms and festive parades. At least one journalist thinks a coup is unlikely. Certainly, the US hopes it is unlikely:
“QUESTION: Okay, just a quick follow-up on Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign minister in a private dinner last night said that they’re quite confident of the robustness of Pakistani democracy and that the – that a military coup is not something likely. Are you confident in the Pakistani democratic structure?
MR. CROWLEY: We are doing everything that we can to support the civilian government in Pakistan and the improvement in the capabilities and performance of civilian government. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve responded so aggressively to the recent flood to support Pakistan’s assistance to its own citizens, and it’s why we have committed time and resources and developed the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan to help this government not only build its capacity, but also rebuild its relationship with its own people. It’s very, very important.”
Crowley didn’t really answer the question during yesterday’s press briefing, or rather he did - saying-but-not-saying that Pakistan’s democratic structure is weak, in need of rebuilding. And that it is “very, very important” for the US for Pakistan’s democracy to remain viable.
Speaking of military coups and politics, Pervez Musharaff is indicating he will return to Pakistan to lead a new political party to “tackle corruption, revive the sluggish economy and … fight against Islamist militants.” While he says he will be returning to run for President in 2013, he says he that he won’t wait until 2013 to go. Could his return, plus another disaster in Pakistan, stir the pot dangerously close to coup? Perhaps. Or would a political Musharaff pull support from the military, lessening the inclination to take over via coup? Another perhaps.
Bottom line: Current US interests necessitate a relationship with Pakistan that is something less than totally hostile. We’d prefer to work with a “democratic” structure but we will work with whoever is in power if our goals require it (actually aren't dictators easier to deal with, only one person to placate?) Fighting a war in Afghanistan certainly requires Pakistan’s involvement.
The tie in to class is the consideration of where Afghanistan is in American Grand Strategy. Pakistan’s place is inextricably tied to Afghanistan’s in the American mindset, at least for now. The question for the strategists among us is how to handle Pakistan to our advantage, provided we can still argue that fighting in Afghanistan is to our advantage. Is it? That’s a whole different debate. But that’s the point of this blog, right?