No Easy Solution in U.S.-Pakistan Relationship

Elisabeth Meinecke
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Posted: May 04, 2011 12:01 AM
No Easy Solution in U.S.-Pakistan Relationship

Rep. Pete King of New York continued to express concern during a Homeland Security hearing committee Tuesday that a large, 12 to 18 foot walled compound could have housed Osama bin Laden for six years without detection right under the nose of Pakistani officials.

He said that left two possibilities, one being direct facilitation of bin Laden's presence by elements of the Pakistani government, or that "Pakistani intelligence is entirely inept," which, he added, he thinks highly unlikely based on past performance.

While relationships with Pakistan have been mixed, as King stated, hearing panelist Dr. Frederick Kagan said there's no simple solution to the dilemma with Pakistan, which has put on the appearance of cooperating with the United States. Kagan spoke at a subcommittee hearing held by chairman and Rep. Patrick Meehan on threats to the U.S. that originate in Pakistan.

Kagan said one of the densest concentrations of the most militant Islamic organizations in the world now reside in Pakistan and have been allowed somewhat free reign.

One severe challenge within Pakistan is the group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba or LeT, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Stephen Tankel. LeT, though not officially affiliated with al Qaeda, began contributing to the group's cause after 9/11. Pakistani officials have seemed reluctant to take on the group, whose immediate focus is jihad in India and domestic aid at home, a crusade which coincides with Pakistani interest. LeT also has the structure to recruit radicalized Westerners, although it has traditionally used them for activities in South Asia.

In addition, Pakistan terrorist groups have provided training to would-be operatives in the U.S., including five Americans from Virginia who radicalized in the U.S., headed to Pakistan for training, and were finally arrested there. The Times Square bomber was trained by the Pakistani group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Panel witness Dr. Seth Jones, of The RAND corporation, also observed that "evidence suggests that al Qai'da leaders retain an unparalleled relationship with local networks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier."

The witnesses – Kagan, Tankel, Jones and the South Asia Center's Shuja Nawaz – listed several steps the United States can take to make its relationship with Pakistan more productive. One is to continue cooperation with India on counterterrorism efforts, as well as in surrounding countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka to combat the growth of LeT. Another step is to encourage a civilian counterterrorism presence within Pakistan and convince the Pakistani that the country's interests long-term run counter to that of LeT, since repercussions would be severe should LeT antagonize America. This goes as well for any Pakistani support of Islamic militants or proxies in places such as Afghanistan.

The panel also gave recommendations for increasing trust between the two countries, a question Ranking Member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) raised while pointing out that giving financial support clearly hadn't worked in establishing trust. A Congressional Research Service reported estimated that $1.8 billion was allocated by the U.S. in aid to Pakistanfor FY 2010.

"For all the money we've spent, how can we develop a relationship of trust?" she said.

The panel said that honesty in closed-door negotiations would be key, as well as getting everyone in the same room to improve communications. There also needs to be more communication than just through military personnel relationships.

Kagan said that, overall, there have been two underlying narratives with U.S. involvement in South Asia that has decimated trust: that the U.S. will always abandon the region, and that getting bin Laden is all the U.S. cared about in its involvement there.

He advised that the U.S. not try to facilitate a premature pullout in Afghanistan, or negotiate a settlement with the insurgency there, simply because of current domestic concerns at home. Kagan said that the best position to negotiate from is that of strength, and he does not believe the U.S. has reached its strongest point in the region or the Taliban its weakest.