Even with recent initiatives, the current close relationship between the US and Pakistan is likely to be short-lived, as Washington treats Islamabad as a fair-weather friend and no real strategy exists to seal a concrete deal, Sean Underwood writes for ISN Security Watch.
By Sean Underwood for ISN Security Watch
The shift in the level of cooperation from Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) with the US intelligence community is likely only a short-term adjustment designed to achieve strategic and geopolitical success for Pakistan. This is due to the fact that the latter had been confronted with a growing level of resistance from extremists and Taliban influence.
Improving security in Pakistan, the rationale for Pakistani cooperation with the US, their historically troubled relationship as well as conflicting national interests of the two states all indicate that this close collaboration is unlikely to become permanent.
In recent months, US military operations and counterterrorism efforts in South Asia have experienced a noticeable shift in the level of cooperation from the ISI. In Pakistan, increased cooperation between the two intelligence communities has created a successful two-month period in which authorities captured or killed 20 senior Taliban officials and members of al-Qaida in Pakistan, one of the largest setbacks experienced by the Taliban since October 2001. Among those captured in Pakistan was Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Talibans’ second in command. Also captured wasMullah Abdul Kabir, member of the influential Quetta Shura council.
While the recent initiative between the US and Pakistan is ongoing and persists to show signs of success and continued optimism, it is improbable that it symbolizes a permanent shift from Pakistan and its most powerful intelligence agency.
Historically, cooperation between the two counties has been complicated by their different strategic interests in the region. Since the end of the Soviet-Afghan conflict, the relationship between Washington and Islamabad has been complex and at times absent over issues of nuclear weapons and terrorism. Long known for its terrorism ties, the ISI has continually been accused of supporting al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and is also responsible for creating extremists movements to fight proxy wars with India, specifically in the Kashmiri region. The most famous of these groups being Lashkar-i-Taiba, blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Unable to maintain stable relations over issues of terrorism and nuclear weapons in the past, it is unlikely that the US and Pakistan will successfully sustain cooperation at its current level in the future, especially as Pakistan was forced into the current collaboration. Confronted by a new strategy designed by the Obama administration last year, which assisted in easing Pakistani security concerns as well as the inability to control the growing influence of the Taliban and al-Qaida, Pakistan was left with no alternative but to begin sharing actionable intelligence with the US.
In recent years there have been a number of security incidents illustrating the diminishing role of the Pakistani government in controlling the Taliban and Islamist groups. The 2007 Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) siege in Islamabad symbolized the government’s inability to control society without the use of excessive force. In 2008, the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was an indicator of the government’s inability to protect its political process. In 2009, failure of the SWAT Valley agreement showed how strong the Taliban had become within society. The government had to treat them as a political organization and engage the Taliban in negotiations which led to severe blowback. Furthermore, the recent arrest of Taliban and al-Qaida members in Karachi, several hundred miles from the border with Afghanistan, illustrates the size and scope of the two organizations’ capabilities in sustaining operations.
Despite all of these developments the security situation has been improving in recent months, as indicated by the high-profile arrests and recovery of territory by the government at the expense of the Taliban. While the situation persists, Pakistan will likely loosen the cooperation and return to the Pervez Musharraf-era status quo. Theoretically, Pakistan will remain a close ally of the US; however, this cooperation will not be backed by any meaningful exchange of information.
Convincing senior Pakistani officials that cooperation with the US is in their best interests will be a difficult task for American statesmen, especially as Pakistan begins to experience more security within its borders than in past years because of the ongoing offensive. Once additional security has been established by Pakistan, the level of ISI’s cooperation with the US intelligence community is likely to reduce in the area of combating the Taliban and al-Qaida. While a stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest, a strong Afghanistan is not.
The unwillingness of the Pakistani government to hand Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradarover to Afghan authorities has already indicated Pakistan’s resistance and its desire to have a role in Afghanistan’s future, thus countering US influence.
If the US is to maintain current relations with Pakistan, Washington must continue to offer more than financial aid to Islamabad. In previous years, financial aid, civilian and military, has produced limited results, despite Pakistan’s poor economic situation that assists in fueling terrorism and insurgency in some areas.
The country’s recent shift in cooperation came as the result of over a dozen official visits by the US and increased military aid. In March 2010, US military officials announced the Pentagon would be providing Pakistan with advance military technology, which includes smart bombs, a dozen surveillance drones and 18 late-model F-16 fighter jets. Moving forward in the future, US strategy must be to continue addressing Pakistani security concerns which align US interests.