Tension in the US-Pakistan relationship isn’t something new. But a recent book challenges the common perception that Islamabad is mostly responsible. In his book Deadly Embrace, Bruce Riedel writes that ‘America has been a fickle friend, sometimes acting as Pakistan’s closest ally and sharing important secret programmes, while at other times moving to isolate and impose sanctions against it.’
Riedel is a former CIA officer and has been a senior advisor to four US presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues. He chaired an interagency review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan at the request of the President Barack Obama, recommendations that form the core his book.
‘US presidents from both the parties have pursued narrow short term interests in Pakistan that have contributed to its instability and radicalization, and thereby created a fertile ground for global jihad,’ Riedel writes.
But he also takes Pakistan to task, arguing that it has often ‘equally fickle’ and ‘duplicitous’ in its relations with the United States. The country is, he says, ‘the epicentre’ of global jihad ‘and the future of the movement will depend more on Pakistan than on any other country. What could happen in Pakistan could be a nightmare.’
The Diplomat’s Sanjay Kumar had a chance to talk with Reidel recently about the United States’ continuing need to engage with elected governments in Islamabad and the need to address Pakistanis’ ‘deep distrust of American intentions.’
Pakistan and the United States have a history of unsteady relations. What do you see as the future for this strategic partnership?
The US-Pakistan relationship has been a roller coaster of highs and lows for decades. Now it’s in free fall down with no bottom in sight, unless cool heads prevail in both countries. There’s plenty of blame on both sides. The US has long preferred the army over the civilians. Now we need to reverse that and help strengthen the elected leaders with trade agreements and strategic dialogue and less military aid.
Who in Pakistan should be held responsible for creating a safe haven for extremist elements?
Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq created the modern Pakistan with a jihadist Frankenstein and a reckless Inter-Service Intelligence agency. Benazir Bhutto took the ISI's advice to help the Taliban, but regretted it later. It cost her her life in the end.
How far is Pakistan’s fear of India genuine, and how much is manufactured to perpetuate the hegemony of the army and the patronage of the anti-India extremist groups?
Pakistani fear of India is real, but also exploited by the army to justify their prerogatives. President Zardari's efforts at opening trade and communications with India are good for both countries.
Is there any hope of a new era in Pakistan, one which is free from jihad?
There are brave voices in Pakistan like the late Salman Taseer and Husain Haqqani, who have spoken out for a modern progressive Pakistan. They are at great risk for doing so. Both India and America need to support them.
Aside from Pakistan itself, the country with most at stake in a stable, peace abiding and prospering Pakistan is India. Al-Qaeda and its jihadi allies would like nothing more than an Indo-Pakistan war: they've tried at least twice to provoke it. Two prime ministers have been smart enough not to take the bait, namely Atal Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. How can India help? First, trade and links – commercial, communications and transport – should be expanded. Second, there should be dialogue on bilateral issues including terror and Kashmir, and regional issues including Afghanistan.
What constructive role can the United States play in extricating Pakistan from its current mess?
President Obama promised to visit Pakistan last year. That visit is all the more important now to reset US-Pakistan relations at the top. He should bring with him new trade reforms. Trade, not aid, will help reform in Pakistan.
In the light of the possible withdrawal of US troops by 2014, is Afghanistan heading for a repeat of the situation that existed after the departure of Soviet troops?
The US and Afghanistan are negotiating a long term security agreement that will keep US military experts in Afghanistan well beyond 2014. We will need a counter terrorism capability in Afghanistan for years to come, as long as we can't trust the ISI. India will play a role in helping Afghanistan too, as it should.
In light of your experience in South Asia, where is the region heading? How optimistic are you about the prospects for peace in the area?
South Asia has been playing Russian roulette for the last 15 years. Pakistan sponsors terror attacks on India, which produces periodic crises between the two nuclear powers. Two Indian prime ministers have bravely avoided escalating these very dangerous crises into full scale war. There’s every reason to believe Pakistan will continue to harbour terrorists who seek conflict and that such crises will recur. At some point, India’s tolerance will be exhausted and war will follow.