Thursday, April 13, 2017

Pakistan: Partner or Problem?

The United States’ relations with Pakistan have been both vital and complex since they were established in 1947. In fact the US was one of the first nations to recognize the young state as it emerged from British colonization. Throughout most of the Cold War the partnership was firm, as both Washington and Islamabad viewed their alliance as a counterweight to the New-Delhi-Moscow partnership.
Once nuclear proliferation replaced the Soviet threat as Washington’s major security concern, relations deteriorated. They hit a low-point beginning in 1985 as the US Senate passed the so-called Pressler Amendment which blocked most economic and military assistance to Islamabad unless the US President annually certified that “Pakistan does not possess a nuclear explosive device and that the proposed United States assistance program will reduce significantly the risk that Pakistan will possess a nuclear explosive device.” All such aid was indeed suspended beginning in 1990. In 1998 President Bill Clinton imposed an economic embargo following Pakistan’s first open nuclear weapons test. The specter of an “Islamic bomb” stalked the halls of Washington, based on the spurious premise that after decades of research and billions in development cost, Islamabad would simply hand out nuclear weapons to other nations and even random terrorist groups.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks prompted a significant shift in Washington’s policy. Needing Pakistan as a staging base and regional partner in the fight against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad’s NPT violations became of secondary importance. This was ironic at several levels, beginning with the fact that Pakistan’s democratically elected president Benazir Bhutto had, in 1989, urged US President George H.W. Bush to stop supporting the Mujaheedin in Afghanistan. Warning of the danger posed by the Islamic extremists, Bhutto prophetically labeled them “Washington’s Frankenstein monster.” Fast forward to 2001 when the Taliban enjoyed the support of Pakistan’s president General Pervez Musharraf, leading some western analysts to speculate that Pakistan’s military intelligence service INI might have been complicit in the 9/11 as a way of regaining US support.
Over the last decade-and-a-half the bilateral relation has continued to swing back and forth. Critics of Islamabad cite continued cooperation with select terrorist and insurgent organizations in Afghanistan, inscrutable activity by the INI, and an uncertain future of Pakistan’s nuclear policy as evidence that the nation is not a reliable ally of the United States or the West. Others are more circumspect, finding that Pakistan’s government must walk a fine line to not alienate significant segments of the populace who harbor Islamist and/or nationalist fervor, while simultaneously presenting themselves as a reliable partner of the West, a partner who can be essential for dealing with crises in Middle Eastern or Muslim nations.
Pakistan: partner or problem? In this volume seven subject specialists review the nation’s positions and activities regarding Islamist extremists, global terrorists, and nuclear proliferation in an effort to shed some light on this question. As always, we wish you interesting reading.

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