During the worst days of the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union learned that their third-world clients had great leverage over their benefactors. The Soviets could not get assistance to the Palestinians in Lebanon without paying off Syria. The Soviets became increasingly involved in Africa because the Cubans shamed Moscow into greater support for Angola and Ethiopia. A succession of US administrations has learned that Israel has more influence over US policy than Washington would like to acknowledge. Until the United States agreed to a “one China” policy, Taiwan had far too much leverage over the actions of the United States in East Asia. And for the past 60 years, the tail has wagged the dog in US-Pakistani relations.
The US-Pakistani relationship is one of the most complicated bilateral relationships in the world. Since the start of the cold war, the United States has needed support from the Islamabad government and, as a result, has ignored Pakistani perfidy. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United States needed secret bases in Pakistan for U-2 reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union and, therefore, disregarded Pakistani military dictatorships. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States needed logistical support for its secret opening to China and overlooked human rights violations in Pakistan.
In the 1980s, Pakistan served as a conduit for US assistance to the anti-Soviet mujihadeen forces and, therefore, ignored Pakistan's secret development of nuclear weapons. For the past ten years, the United States has needed Pakistan as a conduit for supplies to US military forces in Afghanistan as well as a base for CIA drone aircraft that are used against al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan. As a result, the Bush and Obama administrations have ignored Pakistan's support for state terrorism.
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US unwillingness to challenge Pakistan's nuclear ambitions allowed the proliferation of nuclear technology in the third world. The CIA learned as early as 1979 that Pakistan was operating a clandestine uranium facility. President Jimmy Carter did not react to this intelligence and President Ronald Reagan asserted that “nuclear proliferation was none of our business.” This foreshadowed a closer military relationship with Pakistan even when Pakistan's military dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, ordered the hanging of the civilian president he had expelled from office, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and canceled elections.
From 1981 to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the United States relied on Pakistan to bleed the Soviet occupation force in Afghanistan. During this period, the CIA continued to collect intelligence on Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons, but the White House looked the other way. In 1986, CIA deputy director Robert Gates ordered the CIA's directorate of intelligence to provide no intelligence on Pakistani nuclear activities to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush issued exemptions to Pakistan in order to circumvent the Pressler Amendment that required an end to military assistance for Pakistan's crossing of the nuclear threshold. A waiver from President Bush in 1989 permitted the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan although it was known that A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, was supplying nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
In the past decade, there has been no country that has sponsored more state terrorism than Pakistan. Radical Islamists in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate have been training and funding Islamic terrorist organizations for the past three decades, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba that conducted the December 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, as well as the Afghan Taliban, which seized the Afghan capital in 1994. The attack on a Pakistani naval base in Karachi late last month indicates that terrorist organizations have infiltrated the Pakistani military as well. The full story of Osama bin Laden's secret hideout in a military community close to the Pakistani capital may never be known, but it certainly begs serious questions about Pakistani cooperation with even al-Qaeda.
So, what is to be done? The United States is on a fool's errand in Afghanistan and must pursue a diplomatic and political strategy there in order to extricate itself. A smaller US footprint in Afghanistan would make the United States far less dependent on Pakistan. Moreover, US support to the Afghan military ($13 billion) is beginning to rival the size of Afghanistan's gross national product ($16 billion). The United States is building an Afghan military that Afghanis will never afford.
Pakistan continues to be one of the major recipients of US largesse, receiving more than $20 billion in US aid since the 9/11 attacks. Very little of that aid has gone to economic development that Pakistan so sorely needs; nor has it gone to battling terrorism and Islamic forces on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Instead most of this money has gone to a Pakistani military force that is an obstacle to US success in Afghanistan. We cannot end military support to Pakistan as long as we need its support in identifying the terrorists who have sanctuary there.
It is also time for Afghanistan and Pakistan to build their own governments with their own resources. The US role in creating huge military establishments in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been an obstacle to good governance in both places. In any event, no counterinsurgency has been successful against an insurgency like the Taliban with a sanctuary such as Pakistan offers. As long as the Afghan Taliban is our enemy and Pakistan's ally, there will be no success for the United States.
Finally, the United States must end its heavy reliance on the military instrument in the conduct of foreign policy in general. US military occupation in the Islamic world has been the greatest recruitment tool of the Islamic extremists. It was US military aid that helped to create a sanctuary for anti-Soviet extremists in the 1980s; we are now fighting those same extremists. The “Arab Spring” demonstrated the inability of military assistance to have a beneficial impact on democratic change in the Middle East. A heavy US military footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan, moreover, has weakened US economic and diplomatic security; it must be reduced and eventually eliminated.