Let's stop being manipulated by Pakistan
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It’s time for the United States to restore dignity in its relationship with Pakistan.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the bizarre situation in which the United States provides large-scale aid and assistance to Pakistan while the latter undermines U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region.  

Pakistan receives over $742 million in American aid and assistance annually, ostensibly as a major non-NATO ally in the fight against terrorist and militant groups. At the same time, Pakistan provides sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban, an insurgent group that kills American and Afghan soldiers and large numbers of Afghan civilians.


Despite this largesse, the United States is second only to Pakistan’s arch-rival India for unpopularity.

Pakistan’s reasons for the double-game are understandable, if frustrating.

Pakistan fears that Afghanistan will become a client state of India, and that the latter will use Afghan territory to dismantle it. Pakistan accuses India and Afghanistan of supporting insurgent groups in Baluchistan, and alleges that Afghanistan harbors groups that conduct terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The United States has been largely tone deaf to these concerns.

Pakistan has some grounds for concern. Afghanistan has in the past provided support to the Pakistani Taliban, which conducts attacks in Pakistan. The ISIS affiliate, Islamic State Khorasan, has established a presence in eastern Afghanistan and claimed responsibility for the horrific attacks across Pakistan that killed at least 125. That violence levels tend to decline in Kashmir when conflict roils in Afghanistan is probably not lost on India.

Pakistan has been unable to turn Afghanistan into a client state — not even when the Taliban were in power. Fears over India’s ties with the Afghan government provide the internal logic for letting the Afghan Taliban use Pakistani soil to foment insurgency.

The United States unwittingly helps. Aid and assistance dollars from the United States are fungible. With them, Pakistan can divert resources into the hands of Afghan militant groups that might have been otherwise used for defense, education, or other legitimate purposes.

America’s odd policy toward Pakistan is a source of major frustration among Afghans. Many wonder if the United States does all of this deliberately, as an excuse to maintain troops there.

With the large draw-down of international forces from a peak of 140,000 in 2011 to just over 13,000 today, America is no longer as reliant on Pakistani ports, highways and transportation companies to keep troops supplied.

The United States can restore dignity to its policy while giving Pakistan an opportunity to show that it can play a constructive role in the region.

First, the Trump administration should suspend Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status and cease military aid and assistance payments. The United States should be prepared to add more penalties if necessary.

These actions will not compel Pakistan to turn against the Afghan Taliban. Even under a robust U.S.-led sanctions regime in the 1990s, Pakistan was supporting insurgencies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, while still pursuing their nuclear program. These actions will, however, stop the mad practice of subsidizing Pakistan while it undermines U.S. interests.  

Second, the United States should come to grips with the fact that it cannot accommodate the competing interests of India, Pakistan, Iran, and others in Afghanistan. The desire to find a “sweet spot” that makes everyone happy has been part of the reason for America’s troubled regional policy.

Instead, the United States should back an Afghan declaration of regional neutrality in exchange for commitments of non-interference in Afghanistan by regional actors. A regional forum, perhaps managed by the U.N., will be needed to monitor and enforce these agreements. This way, no regional actor controls Afghanistan, and Afghan officials are less prone to play regional powers against the one another.

The policy should not be all sticks. Afghan neutrality, backed by the United States, should substantially reduce Pakistan’s fears of Indo-Afghan aggression. The United States should also consider a “peace dividend” for Pakistan once the war Afghanistan reaches a sustainable peace. This could include resumption of aid and assistance and consideration for a civil-nuclear agreement.

This approach can put the United States and Pakistan relationship on a sounder footing, while advancing the prospects of a favorable and durable outcome in Afghanistan.

Christopher D. Kolenda, a Pentagon senior advisor from 2009-2014, is an adjunct senior fellow at CNAS and senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy. This article is based on research from his new report, “Focused Engagement: A New Way Forward in Afghanistan” which will be released by CNAS on February 21.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill