Foreign Policy Blogs

Pakistan Has its Own Plans for Afghanistan

Since its independence, Pakistan has been a crucial ally to the United States — though when it comes to fighting the war in Afghanistan, it is proving a reluctant one these days. Pakistan has sacrificed blood and treasure in fighting terrorism in its tribal regions, but its government has failed to end both extremist support and influence within its borders.

It is of crucial importance that Pakistan step up and play a more active role in denying the Taliban sanctuary. So far, this hasn’t happened. Instead of pressing for more action on behalf of the Pakistani government, the Obama administration as undercut any pressure on Pakistan to do this by calling for a 2011 drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. If there’s a specific deadline set for U.S. departure, the Pakistan government only has to delay until the U.S. is gone to implement their own strategy, which would almost certainly allow the rise of Islamic militancy in the region.

When accused of lacking the will to protect its people against militancy, the Pakistani government argues that it lacks the capacity to do so. Pakistan’s chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Salim Saifullah Khan (PML-Q), claims that Pakistan is financially overstretched; the government and military can do only so much. Despite being given $20 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, Khan wants more. At a briefing for a U.S. State Department delegation, Khan called for writing off or postponing the repaying of debts, arguing that Pakistan won’t be able to afford to pay this off next year.

Whether it’s a lack of will or capacity, Khan made clear that what happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan is ultimately up to regional partners. Stating that Afghanistan and Pakistan have always been neighbors and will be long after the U.S. leaves, he emphasized that “we want to do it our own way … we have our own way of moving ahead.”

Indeed, Pakistan is beginning to formulate its own plans for the future — plans that don’t include the United States. A recent Wall Street Journal report reveals that at an April 16 meeting with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, Pakistan was lobbying for Afghanistan to dump the United States and instead build a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan.

The Obama administration has already made crucial missteps by setting hasty deadlines for U.S. departure from the region. Leaving Afghanistan is the administration’s top priority. Coupled with the delay in developing the strategic partnership agreement that will map out U.S. relations for the two countries after 2014, Obama has put himself in a tight spot. He must work swiftly and strategically not only with Afghanistan but with Pakistan to ensure that a long-term commitment is made on behalf of all parties.



Morgan Roach

Morgan Roach is a Research Associate in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. She currently works on transatlantic relations, Middle Eastern and African affairs. She received her MSc. in European Studies from the London School of Economics and her B.A. in Government from Sweet Briar College.