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Pakistani Partnerships with the United States: An Assessment

Author: Daniel S. Markey, Adjunct Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
November 12, 2009
National Bureau of Asian Research


The identity and interests of Pakistan's leaders are of profound importance to U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the neighboring regions. The cultivation of effective relationships in Pakistan requires understanding the nuances of Pakistan's leadership. While anti-American sentiment is widespread in Pakistani society, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are also opposed to terrorism and Islamist extremism. Many Pakistanis and their leaders are open to the prospect of partnerships with the United States as long as they perceive concrete opportunities for economic, political, or social advancement.

This essay examines the identity, interests, and popular standing of Pakistan's major leaders, particularly with respect to their willingness to cooperate or engage in partnerships with the United States.1 The first section provides an overview of Pakistani public attitudes toward cooperation with the United States. The subsequent three sections then assess Pakistan's major political party leaders, top military officers, and influential individuals from outside the realm of formal party politics, respectively. For each set of leaders, the essay identifies bases of popular and institutional support as well as the extent of these leaders' willingness to support U.S. efforts in the region. The essay concludes with some options for how the United States might cultivate more effective relationships in Pakistan.

Pakistani Public Attitude

Pakistan's history has been punctuated by an on-again, off-again partnership with the United States. Over the past 60 years, most Pakistanis have-rightly or wrongly-come to view U.S. influence as a primary determinant of their nation's fate and a heavy hand behind the actions of their leaders. Partnership with Washington has always had critics in Pakistan. Pakistanis to the left of center have long criticized U.S. "imperialism," while Islamists, particularly after the Iranian Revolution, pursued their own anti-Western agendas. Since the early 1990s, when the Cold War's end and Islamabad's determined pursuit of a nuclear capability inclined Washington to distance itself from Pakistan, mistrust of the United States became more firmly engrained in the public mind, and even Pakistan's right-of-center nationalists no longer saw the United States as a reliable ally. U.S. intervention in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, and the subsequent uptick in violence throughout the region have convinced many ordinary Pakistanis that the United States is to blame for Pakistan's heightened insecurity.2

President Musharraf's initial decision to lend support to the Bush administration's war on terrorism must be viewed within this context of widespread Pakistani anti-Americanism. Musharraf justified his post-September 11 decision as an inescapable strategic move intended to shield Pakistan from the wrath of an injured superpower.3 Over the subsequent seven years, he failed to convince Pakistanis of the benefits of cooperation with the United States or of the threat posed by extremist groups based in Pakistan, even as his own near-assassination experiences undoubtedly sensitized him to that threat. The unpopularity of the Bush administration in Pakistan and throughout much of the Muslim world compounded the challenges confronting Musharraf.

Today, even Pakistani leaders who favor a partnership with the United States often find it easier to justify the relationship to the public as a necessary evil than as a positive good. Judging from Pakistan's mass media and parliamentary debate, there is a widely held view that the United States is making unreasonable demands of Pakistan's government and military, while Pakistan's civilian population suffers extreme disruption and hardship due to U.S. military operations in the region. Instead of blaming extremists for acts of terrorism within Pakistan, many Pakistanis have tended to hold the United States accountable for provoking militants by invading Pashtun lands in Afghanistan, for the "collateral damage" caused by Predator drone attacks along the Afghan border, and for a range of other recent and historical U.S. policies perceived as unfairly targeting Muslims. It remains to be seen whether the repressive lifestyle imposed by the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley in early 2009-and the subsequent military response-will galvanize public opinion against extremists over the long run or pave the way to more extensive cooperation with the United States.

This does not mean that most Pakistanis would prefer to live in an extremist-dominated state. In fact, there was widespread public revulsion to the expansion of severe Taliban rule in the Swat Valley. Even fewer Pakistanis support terrorist violence against Americans. Quite understandably, however, most Pakistanis would prefer to live in a country less directly implicated in U.S. military and intelligence operations. That sense of victimization and powerlessness probably helps to explain a great deal of Pakistan's popular dissatisfaction with the United States.

Given this widespread dissatisfaction, cooperation with Washington would be even more limited than it is today if Islamabad's actions were determined strictly by majority sentiment. In particular, the use of Pakistani facilities for U.S. military and intelligence operations would probably come to an end, as would Pakistan's military operations in support of U.S. and NATO operations inside Afghanistan.4 It is also likely that the enormous volume of overland shipments supporting international efforts in Afghanistan would be curtailed.

As a practical reality, however, there remains a significant gap between popular public sentiment and actual policy outcomes in Pakistan. Pakistan's top civilian leaders hail from a privileged elite class, often described as an oligarchy, which dominates the major political parties and dampens direct democratic accountability.5 That elite enjoys good relations with the United States and, for the time being, appears to appreciate the value of U.S. partnership as well as the urgent threat posed by Pakistan's extremist networks. There may be signs that this oligarchy's vise-grip on power is starting to slip-the power of independent media outlets, the rise of NGOs of all stripes, the pressures of demographic change, and the many other aspects of globalization all pose threats to traditional social and political power structures-but decisionmakers in Islamabad have yet to be supplanted by more authentically democratic alternatives.

Pakistan's Political Leadership

Turning now to the government, President Asif Ali Zardari is the most important political leader supporting Pakistani cooperation with the United States. Zardari inherited the co-chairmanship of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) from his assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, just before the national elections of February 2008. The PPP is a center-left party founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Benazir Bhutto's father) with a traditional power base in rural Sindh Province complemented by a significant national following. In the February 2008 parliamentary elections, the PPP won 125 of 342 seats in the National Assembly and currently leads a coalition that includes several smaller regional parties, the most important being the Awami National Party (ANANP), Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Fazlur Rahman group (JUI-F).6

Within the Pakistani political spectrum, the PPP's leadership tends to be moderate and convinced that the threat posed by extremist militants and terrorist networks in Pakistan is serious. Yet the PPP's traditional anti-colonial rhetoric and strong opposition to the close ties that the United States maintained with former president and army chief General Musharraf have raised questions among some PPP stalwarts about the wisdom of close cooperation with the United States.

Zardari passed over a number of long-time party loyalists and now relies on his own hand-picked team for guidance on national security issues. Rehman Malik, senior adviser for the Interior Ministry, reportedly counsels Zardari on security issues linked to counterterrorism. By contrast, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's true role in national security decisionmaking is probably less than his formal title might suggest. By most accounts, the prime minister was selected by Zardari to serve as a compliant manager of the parliament. But Gilani is also a regional politician in his own right, with a constituency in southern Punjab, and it is not entirely clear whether he and Zardari have found a mutually acceptable balance of power.7

The degree of support for U.S. counterterrorism cooperation varies widely among Pakistan's other political party leaders. The AN P from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the MQM from Karachi are secular ethnic parties that have joined the PPP government in Islamabad. These two regional parties, with minor caveats, share the PPP's willingness to cooperate with the United States. However, despite the AN P's impressive 2008 electoral victory over Islamist rivals in the Pashtun-dominated NWFP bordering Afghanistan, the party's initial capacity to fight the expanding Taliban presence in the NWFP was quite limited, in large part due to a Taliban campaign of intimidation in which over one hundred AN P politicians and activists were killed in the Swat Valley alone.8 Developing a provincial capacity to provide effective governance and security is the AN P's primary challenge in the Swat Valley now that the army's offensive operations are largely complete. The MQM, by contrast, has a relatively stronger hold in Karachi, even though the city has recently experienced a rapid expansion of its Pashtun population. This demographic shift has prompted fears in MQM circles that a looming "Talibanization" threatens the stability of Pakistan's most important financial, trade, and industrial center.9

The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), which ruled during the Musharraf presidency, has been inconsistent in its support for U.S.-Pakistan partnership. Composed of center-right establishment figures, the PML-Q was decimated in the last national election but retains assembly seats in Punjab and Baluchistan. Throughout Musharraf's rule, the PML-Q's Punjabi leadership did little to cultivate popular support for a U.S.-Pakistan partnership. Its tepid endorsement of Musharraf's "enlightened moderation" agenda also suggested mixed motivations with respect to combating extremism within Pakistani society. At present, the party is internally divided and its members have positioned themselves politically between the ruling PPP coalition and the competing Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) as a means to best leverage their limited clout in national and provincial assemblies. Focusing on political self-preservation more than governance or policy matters, there is no reason to anticipate that the remaining pieces of the PML-Q will choose to exert their influence on U.S.-Pakistan relations in any meaningful way.

The most powerful opposition party is the PML-N led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N has expressed mixed feelings about a closer partnership with the United States. The party's position on this issue is especially relevant given the fact that Sharif appears to be Pakistan's most popular politician.10 Over the past two years, Sharif has clawed his way back into Pakistani politics, after having been ousted by Musharraf in 1999 and sent into exile in Saudi Arabia. Following a stand-off against President Zardari that succeeded in restoring Pakistan's chief justice to the bench in March 2009, Sharif has gained even greater stature. Pakistan's Supreme Court recently cast off the last remaining legal prohibition that bars Sharif from returning to elected office and he is considered likely to return to the National Assembly in an upcoming by-election.11

Sharif's venomous relationship with Musharraf has undoubtedly prejudiced his relations with Musharraf's long-time supporters in the United States. In addition, the PML-N has within its ranks hard-line anti-Indian and anti-Western hawks as well as religious ideologues who may still perceive benefits in harboring militants and cultivating extreme ideologies. On the other hand, the PML-N enjoys its greatest electoral support from Pakistan's most populous and politically dominant Punjab Province, where Sharif's younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, serves as chief minister. In Punjab, the centrist business community stands at the core of the PML-N's base. This community appreciates the benefits of domestic stability and international commerce, both of which would be enhanced through a cordial working relationship with Washington.

To date, it appears that debates within the PML-N over national issues have taken a backseat to the quest for revenge against Musharraf and the pursuit of greater political power. As a consequence, it is not apparent precisely how Sharif would choose to work with the current U.S. administration should he manage to unseat the PPP government in the near future. Sharif has publicly pledged his support in the fight against global terrorists, but the half-measures taken by the PML-N provincial government in Punjab to shut down extremist operatives implicated in the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai suggest the likelihood of a less proactive stance against militancy.12

Above all, it appears that Sharif is intently focused on Pakistani public sentiment and willing to ride whatever wave of national feeling is most likely to carry him back into power. That wave could have anti-American overtones but might very well center on issues of domestic politics, economics, or security. Sharif's opportunism was evident in April 2009 when he expressed his support for a "peace deal" with militant leaders in Pakistan's Swat Valley that initially enjoyed widespread popular backing. But Sharif shifted his stance as he (and many of his constituents) realized that the militants were bent on extending their territorial reach and were unwilling to lay down their arms in return for the local implementation of sharia (Islamic law)13. In short, Sharif will not likely be an easy or steadfast partner, but a mutually acceptable working relationship with him is not entirely out of the question.

Mainstream parties constitute the vast majority of Pakistan's electorate; Islamist parties stand no chance of winning national power through the ballot box. Leaders in all of Pakistan's Islamist parties routinely denounce the United States and some retain direct or informal ties to militant and terrorist operations. For these reasons, Pakistan's Islamist parties represent the least appealing partners in the battle against extremism, but it may be necessary to forge a working relationship with them if they do come to power in a coalition with the major parties. An Islamist alliance comprised of the cadre-based Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Pashtun madrasah-linked Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) held power in the NWFP at the local and provincial levels under the Musharraf regime. It is possible that they could achieve similar victories in the future.

Pakistan's Islamist parties operate in parts of the country where extreme anti-Americanism is deeply entrenched; therefore, these parties may present opportunities for effective, albeit limited, counterterrorism cooperation with the Pakistani government.14 Ideological opposition to the United States does not necessarily mean that Pakistan's Islamist parties are immune to influence. For instance, the main faction of the JUI is notoriously corrupt-its cooperation can be gained, if temporarily, for the right price.15 Other forms of influence stem from the fact that the traditional leaders of Pakistan's Islamist parties have chosen to participate within the constitutional bounds of the state, which exposes them to being outflanked within their own communities by more violent, anti-state militants. For these traditional Islamist leaders, a tactical partnership with the United States aimed at eliminating upstart challengers could provide mutual benefit. At the local level, by informally engaging Islamist parties in development programs in the NWFP, the United States might shift perceptions about alleged U.S. anti-Muslim practices. Even if this shift takes place at the margins, it might be sufficient to produce intelligence leads or to help mitigate violent anti-Americanism among the next generation of Pakistan's Islamist party members.

Pakistan's Military Leadership

In addition to Pakistan's civilian leadership, the country's senior-most military leaders remain essential partners in U.S. counterterrorism and counter-insurgency efforts. Although the post-Musharraf military has withdrawn from many of its political activities and has pledged to serve under civilian command, the military is still Pakistan's dominant national institution and jealously guards a high degree of internal autonomy.16 Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, and director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI ISI), Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha, have so far demonstrated a strong commitment to working with their U.S. counterparts on fighting militancy along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.17 Although conceived during the Musharraf regime, earlier U.S. efforts to improve Pakistan's counter-insurgency capacity by training and equipping army and paramilitary forces have continued after Musharraf's departure.18

Kiyani's cooperation with the United States is not without limits. His rejection of U.S. military strikes within Pakistani territory has been public and forceful.19 It is revealing that Pakistan's army has framed these strikes as U.S. violations of Pakistan's territorial sovereignty rather than as cooperative bilateral efforts to confront terrorism. In part, this choice reflects the army's acute sensitivity to the accusation that it has sold out Pakistan's national interests to the United States.20 In this context, the army's top brass rails against U.S. incursions as a means to demonstrate the army's independence even as it simultaneously partners with the U.S. military in a variety of other ways. Similarly, Kiyani has been reticent about accepting an expanded U.S. military presence (trainers or advisors) in Pakistan. Across the board, Pakistan's military leaders fear that the local and national backlash against U.S. forces operating more openly and extensively in Pakistan would outweigh any conceivable tactical benefit in countering militancy.

Kiyani's mixed strategy for cooperation with the United States also reflects his concern for the morale of his troops, who are now primarily engaged in operations against fellow Pakistanis. This morale problem is compounded by the fact that most of his men have not been trained or equipped for counter-insurgency operations. They are suffering heavy losses-one report claims 1,450 have been killed and 3,500 wounded-and displacing vast civilian populations.21

It is worth noting that earlier periods of U.S.-Pakistan military cooperation brought generations of Pakistani officers like Kiyani into close working contact with U.S. counterparts and introduced a basic level of cultural understanding into the relationship. Today, junior Pakistani officers have little familiarity with the United States or the U.S. military in part because joint training and educational exchanges stopped in the 1990s. Shifting social norms and recruitment patterns within the Pakistani army's officer corps may also be contributing to more widespread conservatism and more parochial Pakistani nationalism.22

In addition, although Kiyani clearly recognizes that Pakistan's national security faces a near-term threat from militants based within the country's own borders, he and his fellow officers still see India as Pakistan's enduring, existential threat. This perception holds even among army leaders who may perceive the potential for a diplomatic breakthrough with India of the sort pursued under Musharraf.23 Pakistan's officers argue that Indian military capabilities-not New Delhi's motives or intentions-must dictate Pakistan's own defense posture. Accordingly, the vast majority of Pakistan's defense capacity remains India-centric even as the army's most active operations take place against Taliban-affiliated groups based in Pakistan's northwest. There is no indication that U.S. entreaties or assertions about benign Indian intentions hold any sway in Pakistan's army circles.

Differences over India undermine U.S.-Pakistan cooperation in other critical ways as well. Many Pakistani
military strategists tend to view U.S. operations in Afghanistan with suspicion, not least because they perceive the post-2002 government in Kabul as being overly friendly toward New Delhi. Fearing encirclement by India or simply seeking to project influence into Afghanistan, Pakistan has persisted in supporting a number of Taliban-affiliated groups, such as the Haqqani network, which was responsible for the devastating bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008.24 These militant groups simultaneously undermine U.S. interests in Afghan stability and may also offer considerable assistance to terrorist operatives, including members of al Qaeda. These links pose insuperable barriers to U.S.-Pakistani operational cooperation, especially in cases where individuals targeted by the United States still enjoy protection from Pakistan's military or intelligence services.

There is a long history to the tangled relationship between Pakistan's military/intelligence establishment and the many militant groups it has nurtured to project power into Afghanistan and India.25 Top-down efforts to delink the army and ISIfrom former Afghan mujahideen (anti-Soviet fighters), Taliban, or Kashmir-oriented militants (all of whom have enjoyed official patronage at one time or another) face significant hurdles. Many officers within the army's vast bureaucracy are unwilling to execute such an about-face, whether out of ideological commitment, fear, or simply inertia. Weeding out extremist sympathizers from a clandestine service such as the ISIappears at best a dangerous and complicated business. At worst, it could provoke a revolt or split within the organization.

At the same time, it is reasonable to assume that Pakistan's intelligence officers will seek to maintain connections and influence with a wide range of extremist groups as a means of collecting information. Cutting ties to all militants would leave the service deaf and blind. Outside observers will have a very difficult time discerning the underlying rationale for specific Pakistani operations designed to gain access to, influence with, or information from militant groups.

Accordingly, it may be prudent to demonstrate some patience with Pakistan's most senior military and intelligence officers as long as they are also able to demonstrate good faith efforts to end past practices. Equally prudent is avoiding demands for results that are simply beyond the capacity of the Pakistani leadership. At the same time, Pakistan would greatly benefit from seeking ways to enhance leadership capacity and improve transparency to ensure that persistent, top-level support to extremist and terrorist groups does not occur.

Other Important Leaders in Pakistan

Outside formal political institutions, Pakistani society has a diverse set of leaders who range widely in their opinions about the nature of the threat posed by militancy and extremism as well as the potential benefits of U.S. partnership. Very few of these individuals or groups are accustomed to direct cooperation with the United States, but in the absence of effective state institutions, mobilizing moderate civil society leaders may turn out to be the best way to improve Pakistan's education system or to provide other social services to tens of millions of impoverished citizens.

The potential power of civil society groups became more evident over the final year of the Musharraf regime, when bar associations mobilized Pakistan's lawyers to protest the sacking of Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Linked via cell phones and publicized by blanket 24/7 media coverage, the lawyers created a vanguard movement that was only later joined by Pakistan's major political parties. The combined organizing power of the lawyers and the PML-Nwas ultimately capable of standing up to the new Zardari government in March 2009 and restoring the chief justice.26 In the immediate aftermath of this historic success, it is unclear whether similar movements might be mobilized to prompt constructive reforms and political change or whether restoring the chief justice represented a singularly galvanizing issue. In particular, a popular movement to oppose violent extremism within Pakistani society could be of invaluable benefit to U.S. counterterrorism goals.

The political power of civil society groups has received the most attention over the past several years, but other nongovernmental leaders and their organizations arguably play even more influential roles at the local level, delivering humanitarian services to impoverished populations underserved by the government. Leaders of these groups influence, if indirectly, public views about extremism and militancy as well as, by extension, partnership with the United States. At present, some civic organizations carry a decidedly anti-Western political agenda. Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) exemplifies this phenomenon; its many clinics and schools in Punjab Province have served needy Pakistanis, but its intimate connections to the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba caused the United Nations to name JuD a terrorist organization in December 2008. Other groups, such as the Edhi Foundation based in Karachi, serve public needs without the same sort of dangerous political baggage.

The pervasive spread of electronic media, made possible by inexpensive technologies and recent changes to Pakistan's regulatory and political environment, has amplified the voices of on-air personalities and civil activists alike. So far, the Pakistani state and mainstream political leaders are-like many others around the world-adjusting slowly to the new media environment. Smaller organizations, not least those dedicated to extremist causes, have harnessed these tools more rapidly. For instance, in Pakistan's troubled regions bordering Afghanistan, Taliban leaders use local FM radio broadcasts, often transmitted by cheap, mobile, Chinese-manufactured equipment, to rail against opponents and terrorize locals.27

In Pakistan's mainstream media, new independent television networks have found ways to reduce Islamabad's once-formidable capacity for censorship and coercion. For instance, one of the most successful new networks, Geo, is based in the Gulf.28 To date, many of the shapers of Pakistan's new media have played to populist, anti-Western themes, but more moderate voices are likely to emerge as Pakistan's cosmopolitan, Karachi-based entertainment industry expands. Long-trusted sources of information, including the BBC and the Voice of America, still enjoy a surprisingly large following in Pakistan, even among anti-Western militants themselves.29 In short, there might be significant opportunities to influence public opinion for or against violent extremism by way of a sophisticated communications strategy that supports moderate Pakistani innovators working in new and traditional media outlets.

Although some of Pakistan's civil society leaders have maneuvered themselves into party politics, many more have been alienated by military and civilian governments alike. For example, Imran Khan, founder of Pakistan's marginal Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was one of the nation's most popular figures, owing to his success as a cricket player. Numerous causes have contributed to his inability to translate that popularity into political power, but it is also clear that the barriers to entry into Pakistan's elite political game remain high.30 The leaders of Pakistan's major parties are effectively selected by dynastic rather than democratic mechanisms. These family dynasties control the financial resources required to pay party cadres to dominate the street and mobilize the vote. Pakistan's business leaders who might conceivably be tempted to turn their wealth into political power instead tend to be cowed into submission by coercive politicians and their activists. These realities suggest that one should not anticipate the rise of fresh, new political faces as significant U.S. partners in the near term, even if promoting political party reform represents a long-term strategy for improving the quality of governance in Pakistan.

Finally, Pakistan's traditional religious, feudal, and tribal elites provide layers of leadership and stability within Pakistani society that should not be underestimated. The United States will find it extremely difficult to secure beneficial partnerships with these sorts of elites, in part because their sources of authority vary widely and are difficult to characterize in general terms. For instance, ancestral connections to renowned spiritual leaders may confer legitimacy that endures for generations. The family background of Pakistan's current prime minister, Yusef Raza Gilani, partly enabled his own entry into national politics. But other Pakistanis from similar backgrounds may remain formally aloof from politics and yet still quite influential among specific segments of the population. It would take a very sophisticated outreach effort to identify these individuals in Pakistan and cultivate them as partners in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

Furthermore, in localities threatened by extremists (Taliban or otherwise), traditional elites tend to be the first targets for harassment or elimination because they offer one of the few organic barriers to social and political transformation.31 Indeed, the recent Taliban uprising in Pakistan's Swat region may have been fueled in part by long-standing grievances between feudal landlords and peasants.32 Partnerships with feudal elites in these regions might therefore prove counterproductive and should be pursued with great caution.

Implications for U.S. Policy

The United States can pursue a variety of alternative strategies to meet its counterterror and counter-insurgency objectives in South Asia, ranging from unilateral U.S. military and intelligence operations to coercive diplomacy to containment. All of these approaches have significant shortcomings, and cultivating strong and effective allies within Pakistan's political, military, and civic communities may be the best way to secure U.S. strategic objectives over the short, medium, and long term.

Improving Pakistan's image of the United States is a long-term and complex endeavor that would require high profile efforts, including humanitarian relief and non-military assistance. It is worth noting that aid provided by the U.S. military in the aftermath of Pakistan's devastating earthquake in October 2005 produced marked, if temporary, changes in attitudes as measured in public opinion surveys.33 Other U.S. assistance efforts have yielded less dramatic changes in Pakistani public opinion, even though the United States has provided Pakistan with roughly $3 billion in non-military assistance since September 11. This discrepancy may be traced to the fact that very few Pakistanis have perceived any tangible benefits from U.S. assistance funds.34 The lion's share of this money went to paying down Pakistan's debt, to direct budget support, and then to a wide variety of specific development projects that tended not to capture widespread notice.35

The Pakistani public might be more likely to respond if the United States were to fund one or more high-profile assistance programs designed to meet real Pakistani development needs, such as roads, hydroelectric projects, irrigation canals, or power plants. Though the government of Pakistan would understandably prefer the flexibility of direct budget support, Islamabad has repeatedly shown itself willing to accept project-based assistance from other major donors such as China and Japan. In addition, as the United States moves ahead with major new non-military assistance programs, Washington should consider implementing creative mechanisms for disbursement, such as international trust funds, that offer greater transparency and accountability for both Pakistan's recipients and U.S. donors.

Expanding technical assistance to civilian institutions and political parties is one important way in which the United States can express strong preference for civilian democracy over military rule. The United States can offer financial assistance in a disciplined, transparent manner by working through multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).36 The United States can enhance the likelihood of continued partnership with Islamabad even in the event of another political transition by building open lines of communication to all of Pakistan's mainstream political parties, not just the party in power. That said, this approach need not be translated into equal treatment for parties and leaders who show different degrees of commitment to common goals.

By identifying areas of common interest and pursuing cooperative ventures at the local level, the United States can attempt to build trust with regional party leaders, such as the leaders of the MQM or ANP, in their geographic strongholds. Providing training and support to local police forces may be an especially promising avenue for cooperation, because the same police who stand at the front lines of the fight against militancy are all too often notorious for corruption.

Because of the Pakistani army's longstanding fear of strategic abandonment, if the United States seeks to enhance military and intelligence cooperation, it is important to understand how coercive conditions on military assistance and threats of sanction play into the prevailing Pakistani mindset. Such threats tend to reinforce concerns among Pakistan's officer corps about U.S. motivations and do little to empower existing (or potential) U.S. partners. Instead of coercion, the United States might design its assistance programming in ways that encourage the Pakistani army, paramilitaries, and intelligence services to transform into better counter-insurgency forces. The U.S. military could also consider sharing platforms, tools, and training appropriate to these tasks, such as helicopters, night-vision goggles, and Special Forces training.

There are also opportunities for constructive U.S. engagement with Pakistan's civil society leaders, but outreach activities intended to assist and build the capacity of non-political organizations would require adequate security and highly trained, well-resourced U.S. diplomats. This intensive approach could in the long run work to prevent radicalization in Pakistani society.

In sum, the United States has an opportunity to cultivate a wide variety of Pakistani leaders as allies of conviction or convenience in the fight against terrorists and militants. Even if anti-Americanism pervades Pakistan's popular political discourse, most of Pakistan's political and military establishment seeks ends that are broadly compatible with the priorities of the United States.

  1. Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000 (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2001).
  2. "Results of a New Nationwide Public Opinion Survey of Pakistan before the June 2008 Pakistani By-Elections," Terror Free Tomorrow, New America Foundation,
  3. Pervez Musharraf, In the Line of Fire (New York: Free Press, 2006), 201-4.
  4. Habibullah Khan and Nick Schifrin, "Allegations that CIAPredator Drones Have Bases in Pakistan," ABC News, February 23, 2009,
  5. Stephen P. Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), 68-70.
  6. "National Assembly Party Position Including Reserved Seats," Election Commission of Pakistan, June 1, 2009,
  7. A tussle between Gilani and Zardari over the sacking of National Security Advisor Mahmud Ali Durrani in January 2009 suggested at least some effort by Gilani to demonstrate his independence. See "Indiscretion Cost Durrani His Job," Dawn, January 8, 2008.
  8. Daud Khattak, "‘No' to Bargain with Taliban Proves Costly," Daily Times, February 13, 2009.
  9. Huma Yusuf, "Launch Point for Mumbai Attacks, Karachi Faces Rising Militancy," Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 2009.
  10. "IRIIndex: Pakistan Public Opinion Survey, March 7-30, 2009," International Republican Institute, 3-4,,%20March%207-30,%202009.pdf.
  11. Zulfiqar Ghuman, "Nawaz Likely to Return to NAUnopposed," Daily Times, July 19, 2009.
  12. James Rupert, "Pakistan's Partial Crackdown Lets Imams Preach Jihad," Bloomberg, January 28, 2009,
  13. "Nawaz Voices Concern over Swat Deal," News [Karachi], April 22, 2009.
  14. For more on Islamist parties in Pakistan, see Joshua T. White, Pakistan's Islamist Frontier: Islamic Politics and U.S. Policy in Pakistan's North-West Frontier, Religion & Security Monograph Series 1 (Arlington: Center on Faith and International Affairs, 2008).
  15. Ansar Abbasi, "Hundreds of Acres of Army Land Given as Bribe to JUI," News [Karachi], November 2, 2008.
  16. To much media acclaim, Pakistan's military submitted an itemized budget to Pakistan's parliament for the first time in June 2008. The document remained very limited in scope and simultaneously demonstrated the army's claim to seek improved relations with civilian politicians and the extreme limits on civilian oversight of military operations and budgets. See Amir Wasim, "Parliament Breaks Taboo, Debates Defence Budget," Dawn, June 18, 2008.
  17. Matthew Rosenberg and Yochi J. Dreazen, "U.S., Pakistan Work Together in Afghan Border Operation," Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2008.
  18. Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, "U.S. Plan Widens Role in Training Pakistani Forces in Qaeda Battle," New York Times, March 2, 2008; and Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez, "U.S. Unit Secretly in Pakistan Lends Ally Support," New York Times, February 22, 2009.
  19. Kiyani was especially critical of a September 3, 2008, helicopter-borne commando raid on a compound in South Waziristan. See Jane Perlez, "Pakistan's Military Chief Criticizes U.S. Over Raid," New York Times, September 11, 2008.
  20. The accusation has been a regular one since September 11, but one recent manifestation that may have had particular resonance was voiced by al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri in his videotaped address to the Pakistani people released in August 2008. See Isambard Wilkinson, "Al-Qa'eda Chief Ayman Zawahiri Attacks Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf in Video," Daily Telegraph, August 11, 2008.
  21. Since May 2009, army operations in Pakistan's Swat Valley have by some estimates displaced as many as 2.8 million locals from their homes, in addition to 500,000 internally displaced refugees from earlier fighting in the FATA. See International Crisis Group, "Pakistan's IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities," June 3, 2009, 2; and "Over 1450 Pakistan Army Officers, Men Have Embraced Shahadat During Anti-Militancy Operations," Associated Press of Pakistan, February 5, 2009.
  22. Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2008), 571.
  23. For more on the recent history of India-Pakistan relations, see Steve Coll, "The Back Channel," New Yorker, March 2, 2009, 38-51.
  24. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, "Pakistanis Aided Attack in Kabul, U.S. Officials Say," New York Times, August 1, 2008.
  25. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005).
  26. Jane Perlez, "Pakistan Leader Backs Down and Reinstates Top Judge," New York Times, March 16, 2009.
  27. R Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Pir Zubair Shah, "In Pakistan, Radio Amplifies Terror of Taliban," New York Times, January 25, 2009.
  28. S Salman Masood, "In Pakistan, TV Network Loses Bite in Its Return," New York Times, January 22, 2008.
  29. I In a December 2008 interview in Islamabad, journalists from Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan reported that the then leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, regularly listened to BBBBC radio.
  30. For more on Imran Khan, see Syed Hamad Ali, "Pakistan's Dreamer," New Statesman, July 23, 2008.
  31. This dynamic has been especially evident in Pakistan's northwest, where Taliban and other militants have made a practice of brutally attacking tribal and spiritual leaders. For one particularly gruesome recent example in Swat, see Oppel and Shah, "In Pakistan."
  32. Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah, "Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan," New York Times, April 17, 2009.
  33. "New Polls Throughout Muslim World: Humanitarian Leadership by USRemains Positive," Terror Free Tomorrow, 2006,, 13-15.
  34. K. Alan Kronstadt, "Direct Overt U.S. Aid and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-2009," Congressional Research Service, October 16, 2008.
  35. This shift was made largely in response to U.S. congressional concerns about the accountability of funds, or lack thereof, once they entered the Pakistani national budget.
  36. Pakistan entered into a new IMF loan program in 2008 in order to avoid an imminent financial crisis. See Jane Perlez, "Monetary Fund Approves $7.6 Billion Loan to Pakistan," New York Times, November 26, 2008.

This essay originally appeared as Daniel Markey, "Pakistani Partnerships with the United States: An Assessment," NBR Analysis (November 2009): 3-19. Copyright (c) The National Bureau of Asian Research.


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