Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

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Pakistan Is Indispensable to the United States

by Ed Husain
September 28, 2011

Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar addresses the media in Ankara on August 11, 2011 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters)

“Disloyal, deceptive, and a danger to the United States” was how Texas congressman Ted Poe described Pakistan in a bid to freeze aid to the country. Gone are the days of Charlie Wilson when General Zia’s Pakistan was the funnel through which the U.S. bankrolled the Afghan mujahideen. Then, billions of dollars were provided for jihadis without the knowledge of the U.S. taxpayer. General Zia was no friend of the West, either.

But today’s American lawmakers want to be loved by the world. They forget that superpowers exert authority and influence, and that does not always make for affection between countries. The Greeks, Romans, and British were not always loved by the world. Idaho Republican senator James Risch spoke for many of his colleagues and compatriots when he said “Frankly, I’m getting tired of it, and I think Americans are getting tired of it as far as shoveling money in there at people who just flat don’t like us.”

Having visited Pakistan, I think most Pakistanis have problems with U.S. foreign policy in their region—not Americans per se. A popular joke in the country helps underscore this point: if your mother is on her death bed, Pakistanis ask one another, would you give her Pakistani medicine or American drugs? The answer is always the latter. This trust in American science, alongside the popularity of American clothes, movies, culture, and education, are not the hallmarks of a people that hate the United States.

Granted, there are elements within Pakistan’s intelligence and military establishment that have ties not just to the Haqqani network, but also to the much larger and widespread Laskhar-e-Taiba. And yes, despite Pakistan’s official denial, Osama bin Laden was kilometers away from the nation’s capital. But these reasons do not make for weakening the United States’ only significant leverage with Pakistan: economic and military aid. If anything, that leverage should be strengthened and deepened in order to maximize U.S. influence in a country that poses a serious terrorist threat, and is in possession of nuclear weapons. In Bruce Riedel’s book Deadly Embrace, he rightly asks what would happen if Pakistan’s next military dictator came not from its whiskey-drinking class, but its bushy-bearded bin Laden sympathizers.

Admiral Mullen’s Senate testimony last week repeatedly called for reframing the United States’ relationship with Pakistan, including spheres of economic development, electricity generation, and water security—issues that matter to ordinary Pakistanis. Sadly, his otherwise thoughtful testimony was overshadowed by his unsubstantiated claims of “ample evidence” that Pakistan harbors terrorists from the Haqqani network. It may well do: Pakistan’s calculus in Afghanistan is different from that of the United States. But where is Mullen’s evidence?

If Admiral Mullen and U.S. lawmakers intend to continue to claim in public that Pakistan is a home for terrorists from the Haqqani network, then they should provide evidence of that. If the accusation is being made in public, then the intelligence for doing so must be in the public domain, too.  Failing to do so not only strengthen the United States’ enemies, but insults a nation that has lost 30,000 civilians and 6,532 soldiers and seen another 19,190 people injured in the fight against terrorism.


  • Posted by Shahjee

    A good article. However we need to keep in account that Pakistan should not, will not and can not allow an Indian run Afghanistan in their backyard.
    True US has made it clear that they will continue to extend Indian influence in the region and its something off the table for discussion, but Pak is also truly option less there as no political party and group is in favor of India on the back as long as Indo-Pak have bitter Kashmir dispute.
    Its basically the failure of US policy makers to form a deep strategic alliance with a historical Pak enemy (India) while conducting this war on terror thus creating vast grey areas in how Pakistan will act to protect its core interests.

  • Posted by papicek

    “Indispensable” may be overstating Pakistan’s place in the constellation of US’s interests, however, Pakistan has long seen the US as a “fickle” ally (as I wrote years ago). This used to mean that Pakistan was largely ignored by Washington. Remarks like Mullen’s and others are simply a new twist to this dynamic.

    The problem is only solved over time. Some rough spots need to be worked on, others you just ride out until things smooth out once again.

    More disturbing are remarks like Ted Poe’s repeated here, for it reveals a fundamental belief in the powers of bribery and reveals more about the congressman than anything else – his utter lack of understanding of foreign relations for one thing. Any pride-based society the US has to deal with has, upon hearing this, just been given another reason to treat the US as a sugar-daddy to be wary of and nothing more.

  • Posted by Cyrus Howell

    I am afraid Pakistan has turned the corner there and now are thought to be an enemies of the People of the United States. We know liars when we meet them.
    Pakistanis and blogers don’t need to be apologists for the Pakistani military. The generals should stop lying and apologize to the USA.
    All the incidents with ISI in the past decade have proved India is the country America needs to support and to do business with, (they have steel mills) while Pakistan is the country the USA needs to dump on the trash heap.
    The reason Pakistani farmers are slaves of the land owners in the fields is because Pakistan is a military dictatorship representing only Islamabad.
    America is ready to sell to India all the jet fighters and jet fighter/bombers they want to buy from us. America is in the arms business as are both China and Russia. The Chinese want their cash up front. They won’t give Pakistan foreign aid to finance their arms deals.
    The Pakistan Army can let the country be taken over by religious Nazi. Then you can be sure you will all be blown up with atom bombs. You can all go to Hell on your own initiative.
    Pakistanis try their hardest to get into the United States. Pakistan is one of the last countries on earth Americans want to live in. The Taliban will soon be your problem alone. No country wants an ally they can’t trust and India is quite sick of Pakistani threats.

  • Posted by Khizar

    I feel like there should be a reciprocating relationship in something that is so sensitive such as the relationship between the two nations. There cannot be a process of give, give, give. If America want’s better results, it needs to put in place requirements, and covenenants that the Pakistani government needs to commit to. Plain and Simple. There needs to a framework for getting rid of the corrupt few involved in the ISI in Pakistan, as well as incentives should be provided for Pakistan to begin investing in physical infrastructure and education.
    That’s my two cents as a Student.

  • Posted by Ashraf Hazara

    I think USA is to be blamed for whatever is happening at the moment in the region. Many distinguished and high profile dignitaries alongside the Afghan ordinary people had been telling USA that Pakistan is the origin of the international terrorism and it harbors assailant groups that not only pose danger to respected American citizens but many ethnic minorities in Afghanistan and in the region are also their target. There are still numerous terrorist training camps in Pakistan that are outsourcing trained and professional suicide killers into Afghanistan to target Western forces including their citizens along side the ordinary Afghan people. Every suicide bomber being caught on the spot, is latter proved to have had a serious of ideological trainings in Pakistan under ICI affiliated terrorist groups. What more proofs USA needs to publicly condemn Pakistan with their direct support to terrorist groups trying to destabilize Afghanistan in attempts to sustain their interests at the cost of Afghans? I believe whatsoever issue related justification is giving by the pakistani officials are fake and will not prove long-lasting, as the truths are eternal and is always in a struggle to giggle out and reveal its true face. If these justifications are put upside down, then you would be able to have a clear picture of how disloyal, deceptive and a huge danger Pakistan is to the world’s peace.

  • Posted by Samad Chaudhry

    There are many enemies of Pakistan and Cyrus Howel’s note only confirms that.
    Pakistan has stood by US policies since its creation in 1947. It joined Baghdad Pack (CENTO), SEATO in the early days. It fought US wars in Afghanistan for over ten years sacrificing lives of innocent Pakistanis. India and Pakistan never saw eye to eye primarily due to division follies of Mountbatten and Kashmir question. Secondly mistrust of muslims since creation of Israel, Iraq war, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and now hostile activities against Syria, Iran and Pakistan. We should work together with Pakistan to get rid of terrorists and these inflamatory speeches by US politicians will not heel the wound. Let us pray for some sense and help Pakistan.

  • Posted by Dorolice

    I was trying to think of what to say but I see YOU hit the nail on the head with a hammer, MR.MCDANIEL.

  • Posted by Londoner

    Mr Hussain misses the point completely. He awnts more proof – books have been written, wiretaps publshihed, tesimony taken – the Paksitani “Establishment” (ie Army/ISI) has directly controllled terrosrist acts not only in Afgahnistan but also USA/UK/India & given safe cover to Al Quaeda, Taliban, Haqquani Netowrk. The establshmnet controls 40%+ of Pakistani GDP and directly not only the foreign,defence & nuclera policy but creates/detrsys political partites and is able to whip up anti western setiments via its paid handmaidens in the media. Many Paksitani civilans now regard their “Establishment” (ie Army/ISI) as a bloated, self serving, mafia that has created an imaginary enemy in INdia & now US to feed its won greed for power nad money.

    So either the Pakistani civilians dispose of their “Establishment) (ie Army/ISI) or the those at the recieving end of Pakiatni mischeif (US/USSR/UK/ France. India and now even China) will take out plan B and break up that counrt once and for all. A miniscule country with ahuge corrupt army and 100 nukes going onto 200 while the peasants slave away and die in floods.

  • Posted by AK

    Pakistanis are hell bent on blaming everyone else including US, India and at times “the west” for the state in which they find their country. They need to wake up to reality that more than 95% of the people of Pakistanis evade paying taxes, making their government/country beg for help. Help cannot ever be handed out with “no strings attached”. Conspiracy theories are rampant in Pakistan. They have nothing to gain from Kashmir issue either, but keep obsessing over it. They believe so strongly in Kashmir issue that they have spend tons of resources (money, effort, years) in letting insurgency grow (directly and indirectly) to destabilize Kashmir and India. If they hate India so much then why not strive to be bigger and better economy than India. Pakistanis fail to see that their politicians, to achieve easy and cheap political points keep blaming Pakistani woes on India, US and the west. They are not seeing that these insurgents are affecting their country too. Pakistanis could have spend the same amount of resources (years, money, effort) in developing their industries, education system and getting people to not cheat their own government by not paying taxes. Pakistanis are responsible for the condition they find themselves in! Pakistanis have to start by accepting and seeing reality and take responsibility of their own actions.

  • Posted by John Fernandes

    Pakistan has created highest number of terror groups filled with hatred towards US as no other country in the world has created with the strong support of Pakistan’s intelligence agency and its People. US should look for better option to destroy the terror networks.

  • Posted by CheekyIndian

    Any problem related to terrorism and you hear the normal excuses from Pakistan. We are not responsible and if you help us batter India this will all go away. Prompts the question how. The truth is even if India hand over Kashmir on a platter tommorow to Pakistan, they can only hope that their military and ISI which are at the core of this militant problem will come under some semblance of control. These rogue agencies of Pakistan basically survive on aid and aren’t interested in the economic growth of Pakistan. Be smart US! Cut off the aid. Let them suffer for a while and then they will have no option but to invigorate their ailing economy and get to some real work other than terrorism. And if you just cant help but send aid. Send food and clothing for the poor not money and military training.

  • Posted by hp

    Someone said we should provide evidence of Pak, ISI, miltary involvement in terrorist activities. You’ve got to be kidding me – are you blind in that you still think the Pakis are not supporting terror. and another thing, they keep talking about Afganistan coming under the control of India. That is bunch of hogwash sold to the Pkai people by their govt and military. If you ask the ordinarly Indian or their govt they will tell point blank that have bigfger fish to fry and really don’t care baout Pakistan. India left Pak behind a long time ago and has interest in losers. India gets richer by the day while Pak is in a constant state of shambles. I agree with the assesment that they are desperate and will do anything to keep the aid from being cut off. Beggars of the worst kind!

  • Posted by US_combat_Marine_Vietnam

    There are a lot of decent people in Pakistan. Unfortunately, their military and the ISI are self-destructing their country, as has been stated here. The Pak people do not have the means to overthrow the combined force of the military/ISI and the other terrorist groups.

    Pakistan needs us way more than we need them. Much is made that they have nukes – big deal, how are they going to deliver them to the US? We have nukes and the means to deliver: I’d let them know that even the threat to use them would require us to turn Pakistan into a glowing green pit.

    I’m so tired of hearing about Kashmir – India, Pakistan, and China all want to control it. I would suggest that since at one time Kashmir was a Buddhist kingdom that control of Kashmir be given to the Tibetan government in exile – since I’ve never heard of a Buddhist suicide bomber everyone living there could live in peace & harmony.

    I’d turn off the money spigot and send hundreds of drones, and stealth bombers, instead until all the terrorists are just dust in the wind. I’d include the requirement that Kashmir be governed by Buddhists as well. Then we could have a realistic relationship with Pakistan, which I would really like to see happen.