Frontline worry in the war on terror

Issue 19 - Oct 2008
Nikolas Gvosdev

Washington is now faced with several grave dilemmas. What happens when a democratic government won’t endorse its policy objectives? Moreover, what happens when the military won’t override the civilians-and even appeals to democracy as the justification for its own limits on cooperation with the U.S. mission?

All of the banal rhetoric about how democracies share common interests didn’t prepare the U.S. for the simple reality that there are clear limits on what any government in Pakistan is prepared to do to cooperate with the United States, given the feelings of the Pakistani population, their clear ambivalence about U.S. objectives, and their belief that increased cooperation with America will not, to go back to Zinni’s initial observation, yield sufficient benefits for Pakistan.

This is going to put real pressure on American and allied planners. Should the U.S. respect Pakistani sovereignty and put its forces in Afghanistan at risk, by not following militants across the border and not being able to strike targets inside Pakistan, at least not without clear and express Pakistani permission? According to the statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, “Admiral Mullen reiterated the US commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to develop further US-Pakistani cooperation .”, this would appear to be the case. Or is the United States prepared to offer major concessions to Pakistan to secure their cooperation (a civil nuclear deal, support for Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, etc.) that would demonstrate Zinni-style “benefits” to accommodating the United States? Or will Washington, after a time, go back to carrying the fight across the Afghan-Pakistan border if there is no substantial increase in Pakistan’s cooperation? Of course, such actions could well end up discrediting the new democratic government in Islamabad.

What is not in the picture is another friendly general who is going to defy either his government or Pakistani public opinion and facilitate U.S. needs. Only when that realization has sunk in will Washington be able to craft a new strategy.