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Targets, not drones, draw ire from Pakistan: Weinbaum

Published May 15, 2012 02:35pm


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Dr Marvin G. Weinbaum – Photo by Malik Siraj Akbar
Dr Marvin G. Weinbaum – Photo by Malik Siraj Akbar

Pakistan’s relationship with the United States was hit hard in 2011, owing to various factors, prime amongst which were the May 2 raid to kill Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad and the attack on Pakistani armed forces’ check-post in Salala in November.

Both countries have been unable to undo the damage and Pakistani parliament’s review of relations has not deterred Washington from continuing drone strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas.

To assess the state of US-Pakistan relations, spoke exclusively to Professor Dr Marvin G. Weinbaum, Director of the Pakistan Center at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.  He is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. From 1999 to 2003, he served at the US Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan.  

What has been the response in Washington to the parliamentary review of Pakistan’s relations with the United States?

It was interesting to see the Pakistani parliament debate the issue. Normally, the military in Pakistan decides the foreign policy. One wonders if the parliament was competent to examine the foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States.

Washington wants the reopening of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan, while the bottom line for Pakistan has been to stop the drone strikes. Drones are one area where the US is most reluctant to give up.

It is believed in Washington that Pakistani officials secretly endorse drone operations but publicly denounce them. Which of these statements is true?

Everyone realises that one could not have conducted the operations over the years without some cooperation from the Pakistani military authorities. The dispute between the two armed forces has been the issue of who to target. Pakistan does not mind if the US targets Al Qaeda. The raid on the Bin Laden compound was the only exception. Likewise, Pakistan does not mind if the drones strike on Hakeemullah Mehsud’s people. Pakistan seems to have problems when the Americans go behind the Haqqani Network or the Quetta Shura. The cause for friction between the two countries on drones is over the issue of the targets.

What is going to be the impact of the bounty announced by the US government on Jammat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed?

The US has been watching the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the context of the rise of the Pakistan Defence Council (PDC).  The PDC has become much visible and the Pakistani civil and military authorities have done nothing to stop it. The objectives of the LeT are aimed at the South Asian region as well as American interests and beyond. The bounty could have been announced one or two years ago but it has come now as a mark of American frustration with Pakistan in the wake of the stoppage of the supply lines, the parliamentary debate and, most importantly, how  groups like the LeT and even the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have been given a free hand to operate.

What do you think are going to be the major transitional challenges in Afghanistan in 2014?  

There are going to be different transitions and different challenges. For example, the security transition looks into the matter of transferring authority to the Afghan security forces, finances, competence of Afghan forces and their loyalties.

Afghanistan will also go through political transition as there is going to be a change in political leadership of the country. If the Afghans can’t negotiate among themselves ahead of 2014, the Taliban are likely to take advantage of this and attain military gains which will eventually lead to a civil war. There is a need to sufficiently stabilise the security forces to avoid a civil war.

The third transition is going to be economic. Most of the economic growth in Afghanistan in the past one decade took place by the virtue of the money that came because of the military’s presence there. Recently, there has been a sharp decline in military assistance. The challenge is how the Afghan economy is going to make an adjustment with where it is today and what it would look like by 2015.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Pakistan was left alone by the United States and even isolated due to its nuclear program. Now, it seems the US won’t be there to help Pakistan grapple with the post-2014 challenges, such as the Pakistani Taliban, because Washington is still annoyed with Islamabad over Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. So, what do you think is going to happen to Pakistan?

In 1990s, there was no insurgency in Pakistan but now it has to calculate what the events in Afghanistan will lead to inside its territory. I do not think that the Pakistani government, or even the military, wants a complete Taliban victory in Afghanistan. They don’t want to see a civil war in Afghanistan which would place Pakistan on the other side of the military influence of Iran, Russia and India. Taliban rule could lead to further isolation for Pakistan and could also lead to the rise of an uncontrollable Taliban in Pakistan.

What is the future of the Pakistani Taliban?

The Afghan Taliban, if they come into power, would like to realign themselves with the Pakistani Taliban. At this time, their top priority is to get into power in Afghanistan because of which one does not see a lot of realignment between the two. But once the Taliban in Afghanistan achieve their goals, they would want the Sharia law for Islamabad as much as they want it for Kabul.

Pakistan wants to be instrumental in bringing a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. They do not want to run Afghanistan but want to make sure that they have their elements there who will take care of Pakistan’s needs. This means, Pakistan would like to offer the Afghans so much domestic influence that they should be able to keep the Indians from getting too much of a foothold in Afghanistan.

What was the impact of Pakistan’s boycott of the Bonn Conference?

I think Pakistan’s boycott was emotional. It made no sense. Pakistan wants to be at the table whenever anything regarding Afghanistan is being discussed. The reason its absence did not matter much is because nothing significant happened in Bonn. Some speeches were made but nothing substantial took place there.

What do you think we should expect from Nato’s upcoming Summit in Chicago?

Some tough decisions, such as the pace of withdrawal, have to be made at the Chicago Summit. Presumably, some bilateral strategic agreements are going to be signed. This is, therefore, an event of important interest for Pakistan.

Would you agree that Pakistan was not consulted while opening an office for the Taliban in Qatar or initiating the reconciliation process?

Pakistan has never objected to the Taliban setting up an office in Qatar. Pakistan was on board on that notion from the very beginning. That is why it never complained about it. For instance, when Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Bradar was secretly talking to the Americans, the Pakistanis immediately locked him up. The problem with Pakistan’s strategy is that Islamabad can’t make the Taliban deliver what it wants them to do. It is naïve to expect the Afghan Taliban to accept Hamid Karzai as a part of the political set-up or form a political party of  their own to become a part of the electoral system.

Do you see a future relationship between the United States and Pakistan after 2014?

Both the countries can ill-afford a complete separation. They will struggle to find those areas of common interest that serve their purpose. There should be no illusions that it is going to be a broad-based strategic partnership. It is going to be a narrowly construed and transactional arrangement.

Why can’t the two countries have a successful strategic partnership?  

The military and the elements in the government are willing to develop a strategic partnership but the public opinion prevents it from happening. Political forces in Pakistan do not want a resolution of tensions between the two countries. Despite controlling the country’s foreign policy, the military in Pakistan involved the public and the media in key debates concerning the relations with the United States as was seen in the Raymond Davis affair. The Bin Laden raid and the killing of soldiers last November has created a set of expectations among the public which serves as the limiting factor for the policymakers.

Pakistanis complain that the United States comes up with a new set of demands every time. When should one expect an end to future pressures on Pakistan to ‘do more’?

I do not think that the US comes up with new demands all the time. We only keep repeating the old ones. The only new demand has come in the case of Hafiz Saeed.

Some sections of opinion in Pakistan believe that the United States is eying their nuclear program and would eventually take away the country’s nukes.

That is nonsense. Anything that weakens the government in Pakistan should be treated contrary to the US interests. The US needs a predictable partner. A partner that is distracted from issues cannot be an interlocutor in any kind of negotiations. If the US has to worry about Pakistan’s nuclear program, it would be for the fear of a break up within the Pakistani military. Does the US worry about it? Yes, it does. The US does not expect the imminent break up of the country but the consequences are catastrophic if junior officers (with support to Jihadi elements) turn on the senior officers causing a serious command-and-control challenge. Fortunately, we are not there at this point. It is not in the interest of the US or even India to deliberately weaken the Pakistani government or the military.

Malik Siraj Akbar is a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington DC. The contents of this interview do not reflect the policy of NED.


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Comments (12) Closed

ali May 15, 2012 11:48pm
The questions asked by the interviewer are very confusing.Most of the questions state that if Pakistan is not supported by the US in all walks of life then it is so weak that it will collapse.This is far from reality, but if it is true then the next government(present government is not capable of doing anything) should do something about it like changing the direction of Pakistan`s foreign policy and trying to stand up on its feet and also making the country militarily strong and try to get some respect in the comity of nations.
Nadia Naeem May 15, 2012 11:30pm
I wish America would leave us alone, rather leave Asia alone. We can mind our own business...
Jehanzeb Idrees May 15, 2012 04:02pm
The guy is pretty much an ostrich to say things he said in the afore cited interview. The gist of the interview is that Pakistan heavily relies on USA vis-a-vis Afghanistan and USA is pretty much calling all the shots. What an ignorant! Probably that's primarily the reason why Afghan taliban are running amok from Helmand to Nuristan and into Kabul. Furthermore, he said for Pakistan that "The US needs a predictable partner." I wonder what Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussain, Zia ul Haq, Milosovich would have to say about that, shall we ask Hosni Mubarak about the predictability of US as a partner? The entire world can read the writing on the wall for the American empire in Afghanistan except for the Americans, a persistent state of denial since the Gulf of Tonkin.
Asad Khan May 15, 2012 04:59pm
Thank you Dr Marvin G. Weinbaum & Malik Siraj Akbar for interviewing an intellectual..I think he & many has raised this issue of US targeting Pak nukes with the greatest possible rationality...I mean they would never want to weaken the army ...they just want to stop terrorism... The media should play its role in building a public trust between US & Pak...This partnership would benefit Pak more the USA...No other country in the world that much amount of aid to Pakistan as the US did....Army has benefited more than the civilians....we need to develop the trust ASAP!!
Zak May 15, 2012 05:02pm
Timid questions designed for a fascile response.
M. Asghar May 15, 2012 03:06pm
Thsis interview in not more than a to and fro for the USA geopolitical interests that are basically at odd with those of Pakistan, because Pakistan's interests are bound with its region.
Indiarules May 15, 2012 03:06pm
A stable Pakistan is good for India too. Pakistan will have dangerous consequences if Afghan Taliban someday comes to power in Kabul. Tehrik i Taliban Pakistan will get all ideological and logistic help from Kabul in that case.
Chris May 16, 2012 01:30am
NIce article but not enough anger at America so no one read but me.
Hamid Ali May 16, 2012 02:28am
Well commented Jehanzaib. I further add that when kkk run amock in USA they call it just their internal issue while when taliban in afghanistan seek independence they call it anti US efforts. Gist is if US stop poking every where to get his desires people will not dislike them or may even think about them . Their are other world big powers but they are not worried for every corner of world why cant they do business in their own geogrophical boundries why they think every state their possessions. I being pakistani is afraid of US we dont know with such technology if they get mad may they starts bombing our cities where goes right to prove innocent till proven guilty. THey have big country why cant they kill their own citisens with drones . and if they kill pakistanis with drones and they get negative emotions why they cry. We have right to hate them even if we cant stop them . One request to USA you ask Pakistan a predictable partner why cant you be our predictable friend . why you prefer doing negotiations secretly with no documentation. Friends come open for things need to be done but u prefer in pakistan out of parliament negotiations which we always wonder who get the benefit of such deal
Ralphi May 16, 2012 04:59am
Dude, America is calling the shots and there is absolutely no doubt about that, werent the US told not to use drones anymore? and did they listen? And now you'll see the NATO supply lines will also open. This whole thing of the governments opposition of the US policy is just an eyewash for the Pakistani people. The Weinbaum guy is very honest when he says that Pakistan is okay when you target certain people but they dont like drones on haqqanis. Well all the leaders you have mentioned were dictators and any day even a fake democratic government (like the one in Pakistan) is more stable.
Krishna Uppaloju May 16, 2012 06:29am
Pakistan should make its economy strong and become self-reliant rather than depending on American aid, Saudi aid and other world agencies aid. Look at other developing countries like Iran, India and Bangladesh which are doing well without foreign aid. If Pakistan continues to take aid (military or civilian), then US is bound to make demands and treat it is as inferior. Pakistan should set its priorities first.
Pramod May 16, 2012 07:06am
If Pakistan will start minding their own buisiness then most of their problems and many of others problem will be solved. But they mind whats happening between Israel and Palestine. They keep crying for a riots in India 10 years back when it is day today business in Pak. They are more bothered about their neighbours religion if he is non muslim and if he is a muslim then whether he is following his religion properly or not (their own interpretation of Religion). Start minding your own business mam and People will laeve you alone.