Analysis & Opinions

Is There a New U.S. Policy for Pakistan?

| June 9, 2008

Barring Barak Obama’s comment that if the U.S. has “actionable intelligence…and President Musharraf won’t act, we will,” the two remaining candidates for the U.S. Presidency have largely avoided remarking on their prospective Pakistan policy were they to be elected. At the same time however, there has been extensive dialogue on their position with regard to fighting terrorism. The question, of course, is how much will the War on Terror define the new President’s agenda towards Pakistan, as it has President Bush’s? What will this mean for America’s broader policy toward the country, and what are the implications, if any, for India?

While the candidates haven’t put forward a comprehensive Pakistan policy, nor should we expect one before they are elected, there are some signs of clear change in the future. Congress has in recent months put restrictions on this Administration’s military spending, tying it to “concerted efforts” to combat al Qaida and the Taliban, and “implementing democratic reforms.” Senator Biden has proposed a new bill that does not diminish the level of military support (and therefore support on the war on terror), but puts much more attention on social and economic support. Bipartisan groups in Washington are currently working on guidelines for the next administration and while there continues to be significant attention on terrorism, the net is spread much more widely, recognizing both the need to emphasize the long-term interest in Pakistan and to engage with a broader swath of Pakistani society.

At a speech on August 1, 2007 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Obama stated, “Let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008. P.L. 110-161

Over eight years, while President Bush has built a strong and loyal relationship with President Musharraf, the Bush Administration’s policy has been primarily focused on terrorism (particularly since 9/11). Occasionally, as events intruded, other issues have risen to the foreground such as nonproliferation and democracy. But there has never been any question that attention has been focused principally on terrorism, a fact made abundantly clear given U.S. spending patterns in Pakistan (approximately nine-tenths of spending since 9/11 has gone to the military )

What is also clear to anyone who watches Pakistan today is that this policy has not been a success. Just 20% of Pakistanis polled in January had a favorable opinion of the United States , and only 9% felt that Pakistan should cooperate with the U.S. in the War on Terror.

But polling data does give a new presidential candidate guidelines for the future. While only 20% of Pakistanis hold “favorable” views towards the United States today, attitudes spiked at more than 46% following America’s actions after the October 2005 Kashmir earthquake. While Pakistanis do not support the war on terror, the second most important issue to them in their recent elections was stability and security .

A new administration is likely to look at these numbers and conclude a couple of things. First, anti-Americanism is not robust, particularly when the U.S. takes actions that directly support Pakistanis. And second, Pakistanis are very focused on improving security and stability for themselves, and will support activities to back this objective. The implications for U.S. policy are clear – America’s Pakistan policy needs to be refocused to target the needs of the Pakistani public. If this approach is taken, Pakistani energies can truly be harnessed and trust can be built. If America wants to succeed in the War on Terror, it needs the support of Pakistan. Refocusing the problem to address Pakistan’s needs is the only way of doing this.

United States policy towards Pakistan and towards India was “de-hyphenated” some years ago. So, a change in U.S.-Pakistan policy should not have any significant direct impact on U.S. policy towards India. However, the indirect effect could be great. It is clearly in India’s interest to have a stable Pakistan, a democratic Pakistan, and a Pakistan that does not harbor terrorists. If the U.S. is truly able to build a trusting and long-term relationship with Pakistan and its people, this would have huge implications for the stability of the Subcontinent and, specifically, India’s security. Perhaps in the not too distant future, India too will be able to build such a relationship with Pakistan.

This article was originally published by the U.S. Election Monitor of the Observer Research Foundation.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Dormandy, Xenia.“Is There a New U.S. Policy for Pakistan?.” , June 9, 2008.