Polaris A Takshashila Institution Blog on International Politics and Security

Where's the Consistency?

The United States government and its allies continue to send mixed messages to Pakistan.

The posting online by WikiLeaks of over thousands of classified documents on the war in Afghanistan has drawn considerable attention in the West to Pakistan continuing to act against American and Western interests. According to an early report in The New York Times (still America’s newspaper of record), “The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Pakistan as an ally by American officials…” A subsequent Times editorial noted that the documents showed that “the collusion [between the ISI and the Taliban] goes even deeper, that representatives of the ISI have worked with the Taliban to organize networks of militants to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan and hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, is even more blunt: “[W]e are paying Pakistan’s Army and intelligence service to be two-faced. Otherwise, they would be just one-faced and 100 percent against us.”

The WikiLeaks revelations have only added to the newfound willingness by some Western leaders to publicly challenge Pakistan’s professed bona fides. British PM David Cameron deserves plaudits for saying what so many have edged around: “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able…to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world…It is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and the UK is very clear on that point.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was even more pointed in her criticism when she said—just after her visit to Pakistan—that someone in the Pakistani establishment knew the location of Osama bin Laden. And U.S. National Security Adviser, Gen. James Jones, told the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius that the Pakistani military decided to “cut a deal” with tribal leaders in 2006 that allowed Taliban insurgents sanctuary in Pakistan, thus giving them the upper hand in Afghanistan.

At the same time, it’s disheartening to see how others continue to make excuses in public for the Pakistani security establishment. At a recent briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen both defended the old line, Gates saying:

[W]hat I have seen…is a Pakistani government that has become increasingly aggressive in taking on terrorists…in the northwestern part of their country…[I]n the last 18 months or so there has been a dramatic change, in my view, in Pakistan’s willingness to take on insurgents and terrorists, their willingness to put their own military at risk and take casualties in going after this.  And our cooperation has been steadily expanding.

and Mullen adding:

[The ISI is] an organization that, actually, we have, in ways, a very positive relationship, very healthy relationship between our intelligence organizations…I was just with General Kayani again, and this is a subject we frequently discuss.  And they have, as the secretary said, in that country, captured lots of terrorists, killed lots of terrorists, focused on terrorism.  And they are strategically shifting.

P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, had this to say when pressed:

[W]e are both satisfied with the aggressive steps that Pakistan has taken in recent months at considerable expense to Pakistan…[I]n our view, made a strategic shift in the last year or more. It has taken aggressive action at considerable expense of – to Pakistan. The Pakistani people are suffering as much if not more than any other people in the world from terrorism…The Pakistani officials have made clear that – about the contacts with various agencies, including the ISI, with elements of concern to us within Pakistan. We understand what they’re saying and we understand what they’re doing. During General Kayani’s tenure as the chief of staff, Pakistan has, in fact, taken the most aggressive action it’s ever taken against extremist elements within its borders.

There’s broad agreement that the United States’ Pakistan policy requires “consistency,” a conclusion that was a major takeaway from the comprehensive policy review last year. Somehow, Pakistan’s behaviour can be altered if it was assured of a long-term U.S. commitment to the region and saw uniformity in both word and deed. But the different messages being sent by Cameron (the United States’ closest ally), Clinton and Jones on the one hand, and Gates, Mullen and the State Department spokespeople on the other—not to mention the half-hearted commitment in public to the war in Afghanistan—demonstrate anything but.

One Response to “Where's the Consistency?”

  1. I look at South Korea and Taiwan and their relationship with US. The nature of the relationship a largely due to the existence of China. Pakistan serves the same purpose. The only difference right now, which will likely be temporary, is that it currently poses a threat to the US. The US will be very careful to handle the current situation so that only the parts of Pakistan that affect it detrimentally will be eliminated. The current climate is ripe for India not to change Pakistan, but to change the US’s approach to it. Instead we only provide proof and morality to the US.