News reports this past week suggest that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has bluntly told Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that his country needs to adopt an unyielding position in dealing with a range of Islamist militants who remain well ensconced in parts of the country. Zardari, in turn, reportedly insisted that such an effort was all but impossible with national elections looming. More to the point, he reiterated his call for a U.S. apology for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers as a consequence of a NATO attack on a border outpost.
Sadly, this conversation was mostly, and predictably, a dialogue of the deaf. Zardari, though a legitimately elected official, isn’t the master of his own house. The brooding, chain smoking Chief of Army Staff Gen. A.P. Kayani, just like many of his predecessors, remains the kingmaker in the country. Added to his role remains the overweening presence of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, an entity long widely believed to have spawned, nurtured and protected many of the Islamist organizations that wreak havoc across the region, and now even within Pakistan.
Would a U.S. apology, in any case, have made the slightest difference in terms of eliciting greater cooperation from the Pakistani state? One can confidently assert that it wouldn’t have made any material difference whatsoever. At best, it might have elicited some anodyne promises about a greater willingness to address American concerns.
Instead of continuing with this kabuki-like dance, the U.S. needs to forthrightly confront the fact that it is unlikely to elicit the cooperation that it so ardently seeks from Pakistan. The strategic interests of the two states have long ceased to be in alignment and neither periodic cajolery nor occasional hectoring is likely to produce the desired results. Instead, an honest recognition of these fundamentally divergent goals might serve as a more sound basis for the conduct of U.S. policy.