By Adam Weinstein*
Relations between Islamabad and Washington remain cordial but distant ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan tomorrow. On August 23, Secretary Pompeo and PM Khan spoke by telephone and Pakistan’s Foreign Office took exception with the U.S. State Department’s press release following the call. This demonstrates a worrisome failure to communicate ahead of the meeting. What can both parties do to ensure the meeting is productive?
Recognize Pakistan’s security sacrifice and Washington’s assistance
A public recognition by Secretary Pompeo of the civilian and military death toll that Pakistan has sustained since 9/11 will serve the dual purpose of acknowledging the lived experience of Pakistanis and establishing a respectful baseline from which Washington can communicate its concerns to PM Khan. What is needed is not a transactional acknowledgment but a diplomatic one. This desire was expressed by past civilian governments including by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, then minister of the interior, when he presented the National Action Plan (NAP) in D.C in 2015.
Both countries must recognize the critical role that Washington has played in developing Pakistan’s military and the importance of the latter to U.S. national security. The U.S. International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) failed to renew funding for Pakistani military officers to attend the U.S. National Defense University next year. The professional and personal friendships that result from these exchanges have proved critical for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Islamabad should also resist the urge to assume it has outgrown U.S. assistance in its military development which has not only advanced its conventional capability but contributed to the development its officers and elite units like the Special Service Group. China can supply military hardware but it cannot supplement the U.S. military’s operational experience.
Discuss counter-terrorism after the FATA-KP merger
Pakistan is grappling with the herculean task of providing security for citizens while respecting individual rights. These two interests can be symbiotic but are also sometimes are in competition. This can be seen in the news across the country including the Rao Anwar scandal, discussions about drones and military checkpoints in the former-Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and debates about how to balance the right to protest with the rights of citizens to move freely through cities. The FATA-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) merger is intended to address some of the injustices experienced by FATA residents by bringing the area and its inhabitants under the full writ of the Pakistani state. This will undoubtedly alter the cost-benefit analysis of military operations, drone strikes, and cross-border violence made by all actors. It is critical that Secretary Pompeo and PM Khan accept that business as usual cannot continue and establish a framework to address mutual security concerns in the tribal areas. Some goodwill was formed when in June, a U.S. drone strike killed Maula Fazlullah in Afghanistan. Sustained progress will require compromises from both sides as Pakistan is asked to target additional terrorist cells and the U.S. is pushed to pursue sustainable policies in Afghanistan that may fall short of its envisioned military victory over the Taliban.
Be aware of what decisions are made by who
Political scientists such as Katharine Adeney have described Pakistan as a democratic but “hybrid regime” that includes elected and unelected centers of power. Unilateral national security decisions by the military have made it extremely influential in the country’s foreign policy. Civilian governments have also contributed to this imbalance. In a report for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Raza Rumi wrote, “during its five-year term from 2008 to 2013, the PPP government essentially abdicated responsibility for forming a strong national counter-terrorism policy and internal security strategy.” He cites the PPP’s refusal to assert itself during the backlash that followed the Abbottabad incident as one such example. However, civilian control over Pakistan has steadily increased since 2008 and it would be a mistake for Secretary Pompeo to dismiss PM Khan’s authority.
Both Imran Khan and the Pakistan’s military seek a more limited role in the U.S. war in Afghanistan and advocate for a political solution that is inclusive of the Taliban. Pakistan’s military supported clemency for Taliban willing to function within the new Afghan state soon after the U.S. invasion but this was rejected by the Bush administration. There is disagreement among analysts over how much leverage Pakistan’s military has over PM Khan but his policy positions on Afghanistan have remained relatively consistent for years. Secretary Pompeo should view this as a unique opportunity to negotiate while Pakistan’s elected government and military establishment remains on the same page even if it diverges slightly from Washington’s preferred outcome. Secretary Pompeo should avoid simplistic understandings of the Pakistani military’s threat perceptions and attempt to understand the complex politics behind its choices. He can also encourage PM Khan to aggressively bolster the capabilities and independence of Pakistan’s civilian security apparatus, especially its police, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). These entities are crucial to improving and maintaining security inside Pakistan and therefore South Asia.
Secretary Pompeo is privileged to have the assistance of the State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells and Senior Director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council (NSC) Lisa Curtis. Senior officers in the U.S. military have also traditionally maintained good relationships with their Pakistani counterparts. But, it is important that Secretary Pompeo communicate a coherent policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that is controlled by President Trump. The potential appointment of the well-respected but controversial diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, as special envoy to Afghanistan may complicate relations due to the widely held view within Pakistan that he holds anti-Pakistan animus. In this case it will be even more critical that U.S. policy in South and Central Asia is perceived as coming from the top. Secretary Pompeo would also be wise to seek the advice of outside analysts at institutions like the Wilson Center, United States Institute for Peace, Stimson Center, and academic institutions such as Georgetown and the University of Chicago. Additionally, PM Khan should consult a diverse array of policy positions.
Talk honestly about civilian aid
PM Khan has also long expressed ambivalence toward U.S. aid and foreign loans. It is important that Washington not exaggerate the impact of its civilian aid to Pakistan. According to one Wilson Center report by Nadia Naviwala, “USAID spending on basic education in Pakistan in 2015 was $65 million, which is less than one percent of the [education] budget.” The author of the report has also warned of the risk that significant foreign aid to Pakistani organizations can prioritize foreign ideas when domestic solutions are needed. Washington can contribute far more with human capital and exchanges than it can with monetary aid that often receives too little oversight. But it is also critical that Pakistan permits productive NGOs to function without unnecessary interference and facilitates visas.
Above all, it is necessary that both sides are willing to sustain dialogue and set measurable goals.
*The writer is a veteran of the US Marine Corps and served in Afghanistan. He works as a policy analyst and focuses on South Asia and Iran. He tweets at @AdamNoahWho