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What should be the key constructs of the U.S. engagement with Pakistan, specially post 2014?

Question submitted by Monish Gulati, from New Delhi, India, February 16, 2013

Answered by: Daniel S. Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia

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The United States has three essential strategic options for dealing with Pakistan. I discuss them in my forthcoming book, No Exit from Pakistan.

The first option I call "defensive insulation." The United States would devote the bulk of its efforts to protecting itself from Pakistan-based threats (terrorism, nuclear weapons, and general instability) by relying on coercion, deterrence, and closer military cooperation with neighboring India and Afghanistan.

The second option is "military-first cooperation." The United States would focus on cultivating a businesslike negotiating relationship with Pakistan's military—still Pakistan's most powerful institution—in order to advance specific U.S. counterterrorism and nuclear goals.

The third option is "comprehensive cooperation." The United States would work with and provide support to Pakistan's military and civilian leadership as well as civil society in ways that would, over time, tip the scales in favor of greater stability in Pakistan and more peaceful relations between Pakistan and its neighbors, Afghanistan, Iran, India, and China.

The specific challenge in the post-2014 context, as NATO troops draw down from Afghanistan, is to avoid a situation in which violence and instability spike, leading U.S.-Pakistan relations to fray to the point of rupture. In that case, the United States would be left with no option other than something very similar to "defensive insulation."

The U.S. goal, as I argue in my book, should instead be to combine aspects of all three different strategies in ways that allow the United States to prepare for the worst, aim for the best, and avoid the most dangerous mistakes of the past in its dealings with Pakistan.