Pakistanis tend to see Washington as the principal contributor to Pakistan’s instability and the loss of tens of thousands of lives since 2001. Those sentiments — as reductionist as they are — will likely prevail as long as Pakistan and its next generation of politicians, journalists, and military officers witnesses high levels of violence.
President Obama has been keen on developing a relationship among equals with Seoul. Toward this, he has visited South Korea three times and is encouraging its leadership to think about big picture issues — such as nuclear security and global economy — a paradigm he has dubbed “Global Korea.”
Similarly, Washington can try to help make Islamabad a responsible actor in its own backyard, yielding dividends for Pakistanis, as well as Americans and Afghans. The White House should give full backing to joint Pakistani and Afghan efforts to achieve a broad-based political settlement with Afghan insurgents. Efforts by some Beltway actors to work around this process or even derail it will only result in greater Pakistani intransigence — and greater danger from militants in the region.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Washington should exercise strategic patience and wholeheartedly support civilian democracy in Pakistan as it did with South Korea. Pakistan’s democrats must not be abandoned once the U.S. leaves Afghanistan.
Next year’s elections could bring in a center-right coalition in Islamabad. It is important for Washington to be able to anticipate a difficult balancing act as a center-right party might have to contend with the United States on the one hand, and more conservative or even Islamist coalition partners on the other. And at the same time, the Obama administration should determine internally the red lines for what it will tolerate.
A center-right coalition in Islamabad is more likely than the present government to pursue efforts for economic and governance reform. Washington should give its full moral and technical backing to such efforts by rewarding legitimate anti-corruption measures, improvement in income tax collection, and by extending preferential market access to Pakistani exports.
After a disastrous 2011, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has taken a turn for the better this year. With an eye on the long term, regional peace and economic prosperity achieved through strong bilateral cooperation might salvage a fledgling partnership and prevent the U.S. from losing an entire generation of Pakistanis.
Arif Rafiq is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. He tweets at: @arifcrafiq.