US-Pakistan Partnership

Earlier this month, American President Barack Obama stated that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan “is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.” Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies is a retired diplomat who served in Pakistan, a former Ambassador, and served as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia from 1989 to 1992. In the Christian Science Monitor today she writes that a key to a US-Pakistan partnership is to make it work for both sides.

Countries defend their own interests first, before worrying about those of their friends, so it is unrealistic to expect that Pakistan’s goals will be fully in sync with those of the US. But Islamabad’s record this past year is heartening.

It has deployed the Army against domestic Taliban insurgents both in the “settled areas” of Pakistan like the Swat Valley, and in the ungoverned tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border like South Waziristan.

Its recognition that these will be long-term campaigns vital to the state indicates that there is a greater degree of congruence between US and Pakistani perceptions of the threat of terrorism than many Pakistanis had previously accepted.

This is an important point and its good to hear it coming from the Americans. It shows that they are really making an effort to see Pakistan as a partner, not a pawn in a game of chess.

What does the US need to contribute to the partnership? The key is staying power. Pakistanis view the US as an unreliable partner that has used Pakistan when it was convenient and abandoned it when the moment passed. The 2011 exit ramp for US troops in Afghanistan risks reinforcing this perception.

To counteract it, we have already offered long-term aid. We need to bolster this with real support for Pakistan’s internal security – capacity-building, funding, and recognition of the challenges Pakistan faces.

Finally, always provided we are on track toward our primary goals, we should find an opportunity to have the US-Pakistan relationship “countersigned” by the Congress, which the Pakistanis see as the “gold standard” in determining whether the US is serious.

Ms. Schaffer’s suggestions are a great step towards a long and mutually beneficial partnership between the US and Pakistan. It is this sort of dialogue that we hope to see encouraged and flourishing between these two nations.

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