Pakistan will pose one of the greatest foreign policy challenges for the incoming Obama administration. How Pakistan addresses its many challenges will directly influence the security of the United States. The Obama administration must work with Pakistan, its friends and neighbors to create a new strategy for enhancing security in Pakistan to make it an effective ally in the war on terrorism. But U.S. policymakers must understand the key challenges facing Pakistan and surrounding countries.
First, Pakistan is experiencing growing internal violence and regional instability. A strengthening, multi-headed adaptive network of extremists made up of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and affiliated indigenous militant groups is escalating deadly attacks within Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Second, Pakistan is confronting failing governance. Its civilian government remains weak following years of military rule, under-investment in Pakistan's government institutions and dysfunctional political leadership. The 2008 Failed States Index ranks Pakistan as the ninth most likely state in the world to fail.
Third, the Pakistani economy is in a downward spiral. Inflation is at 25%, its foreign currency reserves are plummeting, and the government is in danger of defaulting on its debt.
These challenges feed on each other in a dangerous cycle. To combat them, the United States needs to make a shift from a reactive, transactional, short-term approach that is narrowly focused on bilateral efforts to a more proactive, long-term strategy that seeks to advance stability and prosperity inside Pakistan. The U.S. must do this through a multilateral, regional approach.
For decades, U.S. policy has pursued short-term stability in Pakistan at all costs, utilizing a self-defeating strategy of almost exclusive support of the country's military establishment and individual leaders. It has offered insufficient and inconsistent support to civilian institutions and programs that directly affect the lives of average Pakistanis. What's worse, the United States has approached Pakistan in a vacuum, neglecting to recognize the regional nature of the country's challenges and the competing and sometimes contradictory roles played by numerous groups inside Pakistan.
In the seven years since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration only deepened this policy approach. By tying its policy to former President Pervez Musharraf, the administration overemphasized a conventional military approach, poured unaccountable and nontransparent funds into Pakistan's defense establishment and did not work closely enough with other nations and organizations whose interests in Pakistan are as much at stake as ours. This approach has not served U.S. or Pakistani interests, nor is it aligned with U.S. values.
Now, however, there are several factors that offer the opportunity to make a positive shift in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
For the first time in almost a decade, the United States and the world have legitimate partners in the democratically elected government of Pakistan. This government, while internally divided and weak, has greater legitimacy with Pakistanis than the Musharraf regime. Furthermore, Pakistan has numerous allies in the region and the world that are assisting it in addressing its challenges.
Congress is heavily engaged in the issue. Vice President-elect Joe Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and ranking Republican Richard Lugar recently introduced the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2008. The bill would broaden the U.S.-Pakistani relationship beyond military relations and authorize $7.5 billion over five years to go toward projects "intended to benefit the people of Pakistan."
The incoming administration can overcome the current distrust that the government of Pakistan and its people hold toward President Bush. Moreover, the strains between the Bush administration and numerous other countries, including our European allies, have hurt our nation's efforts on Pakistan.
To take advantage of these opportunities, the new U.S. administration, with Congress and the international community, should strive to help Pakistan accomplish the following goals.
First, weaken Al Qaeda, the Taliban and affiliated militant groups so they no longer threaten stability in the region, the United States or the world. Second, secure borders between Pakistan and its neighbors. The U.S. and its allies should work to resolve all border disputes, including those of Kashmir and the Durand Line (the disputed boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan). Third, foster a stable internal political system that is based on the inclusive participation of all Pakistani citizens, civilian oversight of key security and intelligence agencies and governing authorities that respect basic human rights. Finally, help create a growing economy, integrated with the global marketplace, that provides for the needs of Pakistanis.
To implement these goals, the U.S. must adopt policies that recognize the regional dimension of Pakistan's security challenge. Afghanistan, India and Pakistan are inextricably linked, and U.S. policy must be formulated accordingly. The U.S. must also organize integrated international support to the troubled country. Pakistanis' suspicions of the United States mean that multilateral approaches will work more effectively.
The U.S. must also shift away from a narrow focus on military and intelligence cooperation. Long-term stability in Pakistan depends not only on curtailing extremism but also on strengthening its economy and democracy and on reducing tensions between Pakistan and its neighbors. Furthermore, the U.S. should integrate its military approaches into a wider political strategy for the region. The U.S. government should engage with leaders of Pakistan's civilian institutions and civil society in addition to its military establishment.
Finally, the U.S. should support the democratic transition in Pakistan without favoring candidates or political parties. The United States should support broader political reform in Pakistan along with economic development programs and efforts to enhance security.