Sunday, 19 February 2017
America Is Fast Running Out of Patience for Pakistan, by SADANAND DHUME
America Is Fast Running Out of Patience for Pakistan, b SADANAND DHUME
Trump’s counterterrorism agenda means Islamabad won’t get away so easily anymore with harboring and helping terrorists.
SADANAND DHUME Feb. 16, 2017
Pakistan is running out of friends in Washington. Recent publications by influential U.S. experts, Congressional testimony by officials and signs out of the Trump administration all point in the same direction: The U.S. will step up pressure on Islamabad to crack down on terrorist groups that target U.S. troops in Afghanistan and destabilize Afghanistan and India.
In the decade and a half since 9/11, a generation of U.S. military and intelligence professionals has witnessed the Pakistani army’s support for terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The 2011 discovery of Osama bin Laden a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s top military academy cemented the narrative of Islamabad’s “double game.”
Pakistan ought to take this darkening mood seriously. If it acts against the terrorist groups that operate from its soil, it will begin to earn back trust in Washington. But if it persists with business as usual—distinguishing between “bad terrorists” who attack Pakistanis and “good terrorists” who attack Americans, Afghans and Indians—it should expect frostier ties with its largest export market and one of its biggest defense suppliers.
A report this month, co-authored by the Heritage Foundation’s Lisa Curtis and the Hudson Institute’s Husain Haqqani, urged the Trump administration to “make it more and more costly” for Pakistan to support terrorist proxies. Georgetown University’s C. Christine Fair, the author of a highly regarded book on the Pakistani army, argues that Pakistan “continues to behave as an enemy by taking U.S. money while supporting the Taliban who kill U.S. troops and civilians as well as those of our Afghan and international allies.”
Testifying before Congress last week, Gen. John. W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan, spoke of Pakistan’s less-than-helpful role in Afghanistan. “It’s very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven,” he said.
Most experts do not believe the U.S. should immediately take the radical step of classifying Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria. This would end U.S. military aid to Pakistan and trigger an array of other punitive measures.
But Ms. Curtis and Mr. Haqqani, among others, believe that “it should be kept as an option for the long term.” They rightly surmise that after many years of failing to change Pakistan’s behavior with carrots, the U.S. needs to wield a bigger stick.
For starters, Washington should review Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, which was granted by the George W. Bush administration in 2004. At the time this was a sweetener to get military strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf to cooperate more closely against al Qaeda. But it has become increasingly hard to argue that Pakistan belongs on a list that includes, among others, such steadfast U.S. allies as Australia, Israel and Japan.
Attaching stricter conditions to aid may also help. Since 9/11 the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid and military reimbursements. In the first few years of this assistance, the Pakistani army helped nab several high- and mid-level members of al Qaeda, though not bin Laden or his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is widely believed to still be in Pakistan.
But the deadliest terrorist groups active in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, have long enjoyed safe haven in Pakistan. As do India-centric groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
U.S. calls for a comprehensive crackdown on terrorist groups are often met with resentment in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis argue that their country also suffers from the scourge. This week, for instance, suicide bombers killed at least 70 people in Lahore, Peshawar, a Sufi shrine in Sindh and the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Asking for greater global sympathy may be understandable, but it won’t solve the problem. Had its army not fostered a witches’ brew of terrorist groups and jihadist madrassas in its crazed pursuit of parity with a much-bigger India, Pakistan would be a calmer place.
For the Trump administration, countering terrorism, and the ideology of radical Islam more broadly, is near the top of its agenda. Mr. Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., says this makes it even more important for the generals in Rawalpindi to pay attention to the changing mood in Washington.
Several terrorist incidents in the U.S., including the 2015 San Bernardino attack, have been traced to Pakistanis or Pakistani-Americans. “We are just one truck bomb away from the Trump administration saying ‘Okay, we need to act against Pakistan,’ ” warns Mr. Haqqani.
Mr. Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist for WSJ.com.