August 22, 2008

HARRISONBURG— Today in a commentary for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, outlines the orientation which he suggests United States policy toward Pakistan should take after the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as president of the South Asian country earlier this week.

Noting the Pakistani government’s lost of control over much of the country’s territory, the spike in terrorism, and the worsening socioeconomic indicators, the essay argues that U.S. strategy should include four elements:

 First, America must avoid the temptation to personalize foreign policy…To paraphrase Lord Palmerston, a nation’s foreign policy ought not be gambled on the permanence of its alleged friends, but rather be based on enduring geostrategic interests—its own and those of its international partners.

Second, Washington needs to realistically temper its expectations of what any Pakistani government, at least in the short to intermediate term, can be expected to deliver. U.S. policymakers will have to accustom themselves both to the political constraints faced by their Pakistani counterparts as well as to the extreme unlikelihood that the “transition to democratic government” heralded by Secretary Rice will miraculously transform Islamabad into a partner in Afghanistan…

Third, if American interests in South Asia cannot be dependent on the vicissitudes of domestic Pakistani politics, then… Pakistan’s larger, more stable, democratic neighbor [ India] might be “an answer to some of our major geopolitical problems.”… [T]he United States has given Pakistan over $10 billion in military assistance and other aid since 2001 and has very little to show for it—although that inconvenient fact didn’t prevent Senator Barack Obama from calling for tripling non-military assistance to Pakistan this week. While India with its growing economy needs no handouts, it is not hard to imagine how shifting at least some of America’s partnership resources might positively influence the political and security balance in the region.

Fourth, the United States must undertake to prioritize the competing policy interests which it has, somewhat counterproductively, tried to pursue simultaneously up to now. This does not mean giving up on reform and democracy—such impulses, especially if they arise indigenously within Pakistani society, ought to be encouraged—but it does require recalibrating American policy. Realists hold that a government’s primary responsibility in the conduct of its relations with others is the security of its citizens and territory and only secondarily does it pursue other goals. Hence the most important objective to be pursued by the United States and its allies in their dealings with Islamabad in the coming months will be containing the effects of the centrifugal momentum currently ripping Pakistan apart as a nation-state while waiting for the deluge in Musharraf’s wake to recede.

The full text of Dr. Pham’s commentary, “Avoiding a Deluge,” can be accessed by clicking here.