Managing Pakistan After bin Laden
Duplicity has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s approach to the U.S. for years. Beginning in the 1970s, Islamabad denied it was pursuing nuclear weapons, even as Washington repeatedly confronted it with concrete evidence. Presidents and Congresses fulminated, but the nuclear program continued and a device was successfully tested in 1998.
So no one should be stunned that Osama bin Laden resided comfortably for perhaps six years one mile from Pakistan’s West Point. This arrangement would have been unworkable without complicity by elements of Pakistan’s government, most likely Inter-Services Intelligence, which fathered the Taliban years ago. The key question is how extensive knowledge of bin Laden’s presence was within Islamabad’s military and civilian structures.
Congress’s initial reaction has been explosive. How could our “ally” aid our most vicious enemy? Pakistanis have offered many answers, with varying degrees of believability. Most have sounded like Casablanca’s Captain Renault: They are shocked—shocked!—that bin Laden was in Abbottabad.
The question facing Washington now is what to do with this wayward partner. At stake are three fundamental U.S. interests.
Most important is preventing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from getting into the hands of Islamic extremists, either because of leakage from Pakistan’s arsenal, or because the entire country falls to the terrorists. If there were a viable way to seize or destroy these weapons, that would be one thing. But no such option exists. There are too many weapons and they are too dispersed. Plus, imagine Islamabad’s attitude if even a few warheads remained after such an assault.
Second, we must prevent Pakistan from slipping under China’s dominance. During the Cold War, Pakistan sought a countervailing great-power ally against India’s links to the Soviet Union. Islamabad leaned alternatively toward Washington and Beijing, which provided nuclear weapon designs to underline its interest.
Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani suggested to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that they jointly toss the U.S. overboard and align with China. Beijing’s near-belligerence is already visible in the East and South China Seas through its aggressive naval maneuvers and expansive territorial claims. We cannot afford to lose two Central Asian countries to its hegemonic aspirations.
Third, and most immediately, we still need Pakistan’s cooperation in the continuing war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Unfortunately, President Obama is poised to incorporate bin Laden’s death into his pre-existing narrative of success in Afghanistan, thereby justifying the announcement of troop withdrawals in July.
This is exactly the opposite of what we should do. Instead, we should build on the psychological and operational momentum provided by bin Laden’s death to pressure the enemy mercilessly. Pakistan will see a substantial withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces as signaling reduced American influence—regionally and globally—and will react accordingly.
Now is the time for straight talk like that immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. We need to insist unambiguously that Pakistan realign itself as an opponent of terror, and that we will no longer tolerate its double game. Primarily, that means pressuring Pakistan to carry out substantially greater military operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
We also need to have very direct conversations with top Pakistani officials to understand exactly what assistance bin Laden received. Those officials complicit with al Qaeda must, at a minimum, be removed from office. They committed treason against their own government, and they violated our maxim that those who sponsor terrorists be treated as terrorists themselves.
We should also address the basic reason Islamabad has acquiesced in terrorism: namely, its continuing clash with India over Kashmir.
For outsiders, Kashmir is the third rail of diplomatic relations with India, which has insisted since Britain partitioned the subcontinent in 1947 that Kashmir was Indian. India contends that the 1972 Simla Agreement codifies its position and that the dispute can only be resolved bilaterally by India and Pakistan.
Pakistan, the weaker power, would prefer outside involvement, ideally to organize the referendum promised at partition to determine the status of largely Muslim Kashmir. But India will never allow that referendum.
Thus, over the decades, many proposals for resolving Kashmir have died, and new ideas are greeted derisively. Meanwhile, elements of Pakistan’s government, namely the intelligence services, have harbored terrorist groups like Lashkar-e Taiba in order to threaten India.
Until Pakistan’s basic security questions with India are at least addressed, it will never focus adequately on the security questions arising along its border with Afghanistan. This will be a lengthy and controversial process. But it’s one worthy of major U.S. effort, since it involves extraordinarily important interests.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal