The U.S. and Pakistan: Uneasy Ties

Pakistani woman and US Marine

"Pakistan today is like a ship in heavy seas, having lost its propulsion’’ described a recent visitor to Islamabad. The imagery is dramatic but apt as the country reels under the effects of a massive flood and political squabbling that appear to have reduced government to firefighting rather than coming up with a credible long-term plan. It is critical that Pakistan’s Ship of State be navigated out of rough seas in the face of a perfect storm of national and regional challenges.

News of the floods is fast receding from the headlines, and the fear is that donors will halt their aid and move on to issues elsewhere. Meanwhile the US-Pakistan relationship seems to be fraught, in the wake of increased drone attacks and incursions by NATO helicopters into Pakistani territory. As the two allies meet today in Washington, both the floods as well as their relations need to be addressed, and both countries need to avoid missteps that could add to instability in the region.

As for flood relief, the United States appears to be the most generous donor, with nearly $400 million in promised aid, accounting for a quarter of all official aid pledged to date. The United Nations has asked the international community for $2 billion in humanitarian aid. Pakistan estimates its losses at about $43 billion, although the World Bank and Asian Development Bank estimates came in at $9.7 billion. Still, how will the gap be filled?

The mood in Washington is not very positive, as Congress reacts to the growing war bill for Afghanistan on the one hand and Pakistan’s apparent inability to control the Afghan Taliban from using its territory as a safe haven. Pakistan also possesses the ability to stop NATO supplies from reaching Afghanistan via its land route at any time. This rankles the Americans. The deep mutual mistrust between the United States and Pakistan will likely be reflected in today’s meetings.

Internally, Pakistan is facing severe economic hardships as a result of the floods that will last well into the next few years. Economic growth is already creeping downward from previous estimates of below-par 4 percent annually to near zero and, according to some analysts, perhaps into negative territory.

Population figures are on an upward trajectory and the largely youthful population of 180 million, with a median age of 18, faces lack of education and employment. Meanwhile the gap between the rich and the poor will be exacerbated, as the rural poor live largely in the devastated flood plains.

The recently improved economic team in the civilian administration may not have the political backing to make their reform agenda stick nor be able to change behavior to improve tax revenues. In a country where the prime minister and other political leaders reportedly have either not paid income taxes in recent years or only nominal amounts, and foreign assets and incomes are routinely hidden from the tax man’s eyes, the prospects of fiscal stability are dim. A culture of entitlement grips all institutions. All hands are not on the tiller but in the till.

Against this dark scenario, friends of Pakistan will need to inject support for civil society that is once more trying against all odds to help the millions affected by the floods. But the needs are too great to be met from inside Pakistan.

In a major agricultural economy, where buffalo milk contributes the largest amount to national income (close to $10 billion year) and often means the difference between life and death to the farmers, lost livestock needs to be replaced urgently. The wheat, cotton, and rice crops also need to be re-launched. If food shortages persist and flood-related diseases spread, social upheaval may well be on the cards.

Meanwhile, most US aid has not yet landed in Pakistan. Two months have gone by since the flood and yet there is no visible plan to shift these funds to flood relief and reconstruction. USAID appeared to be waiting for the World Bank and Asian Development Bank assessment of flood damage. The funds could also be held hostage by certification requirements. If Pakistan fails any of the tests written into the aid law, Congress is bound to cut off assistance, especially to the military. That would unleash a huge problem inside Pakistan’s fragile polity as well as a reaction from the Pakistan military that may affect the coalition efforts in Afghanistan. The recent contretemps over the helicopter attacks and the subsequent stoppage of NATO supplies may foreshadow a wider breach.

These are some of the issues that the United States and Pakistan will have to deal with in their meetings. There needs to be better and clearer communication between Islamabad and Washington of how each side defines its strategic aims and red lines. Given the Byzantine politics of Pakistan and inept handling of crisis after crisis by a rudderless government, and a Washington establishment transfixed by the looming headlights of mid-term elections and mired in a difficult exit strategy out of war in Afghanistan, the auguries are not inspiring. A perfect storm may be brewing in Pakistan.

Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Pakistan’s Internal and External Challenges: Political Myths and Realities

The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center held a discussion with Ashraf Qazi, Chairman of the Council on Pakistan Relations; C. Christine Fair, Assistant Professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University; Harlan Ullman, Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council; and Shuja Nawaz, Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Concurrent with the Strategic Dialogue in Washington, this panel of experts examined the crucial questions facing the US and Pakistan.

As the United States and Pakistan gear up for their third ministerial-level Strategic Dialogue meeting to be held in Washington next week, critical questions about Pakistan’s domestic politics and relations with the US remain unresolved. Where does the Pakistani government stand in the aftermath of the floods? How has the sharp rise in diplomatic and military skirmishes between the US and Pakistan affected an already precarious relationship? As steps are taken to move toward a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, where do American and Pakistani interests converge and conflict?

Speaker Bios:

Ashraf Qazi is the founder and Chairman of the Council on Pakistan Relations, a Washington DC based not-for-profit advocacy organization interested in strengthening ties and enhancing mutual understanding between the US and Pakistan. He is also the CEO of Ciena Healthcare Management, a Michigan-based health care company. Mr. Qazi is a graduate of Daemen College in Amherst, New York.
C. Christine Fair is an assistant professor in the Center for Peace and Security Studies (CPASS) within Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Previously, she has served as a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation, a political officer to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan in Kabul, and as a senior research associate in USIP’s Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention. She is also a senior fellow with the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point.
Harlan Ullman
is a Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council and a member of its Strategic Advisors Group. He is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the National Defense University. In business he is Chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders in business and government. A former naval person with 150 combat operations and missions in Vietnam in patrol boats and later commands, he is on the advisory boards for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and serves as an advisor for the Pentagon’s Business Transformation Agency. Dr. Ullman is also a columnist with UPI.

Pakistan’s Energy Sector: Arresting the Decline

On October 21st, the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center hosted Ziad Alahdad, former Director of Operations at the World Bank Institute, for a discussion of Pakistan’s energy sector.

Mr. Alahdad, who has over 38 years of experience in this field, offered insights about how Pakistan can resolve its energy issues.

The shortage of energy in Pakistan is a primary constraint to the country’s economic development. Policymakers have articulated their goals for developing the energy sector but have struggled to implement their policies, responding to crises as they arise rather than averting them through the optimal and sustainable use of resources. One solution to this problem is the concept of Integrated Energy Planning and Policy Formulation (IEP), a method that has been tried and tested in developing and developed countries alike. Though political and security concerns continue to dominate the dialogue on Pakistan, the time to act on the energy situation is now.


Ziad Alahdad, Consultant Advisor and former Director of Operations at the World Bank

Moderated by:

Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council

Shuja Nawaz Interviewed on Changing U.S.-Pakistan Relations

Highlight - Nawaz

In light of recent events in Pakistan, Shuja Nawaz, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, appeared on PBS NewsHour and National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

PBS NewsHour Segment: U.S.-Pakistani Ties: a History of Needing Each Other, Patching Things Up

Summary: With tension rising again between the U.S. and Pakistan, described as “two countries that need each other badly,” Margaret Warner looks at the state of relations with Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

To view the segment, click here or play the video below.



NPR Morning Edition: Helicopter Strike Strains Tense U.S.-Pakistan Ties

Summary: The increased difficulty now stems from U.S. pressure on Pakistan to root out militants on its soil.

To listen to the segment, click here or play the radio below.

Shuja Nawaz on PBS NewsHour: 10/06/10 – Transcript

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MARGARET WARNER: And for a closer look at the tensions in this crucial alliance, we’re joined by Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council and author of its recent report, "Pakistan in the Danger Zone: A Tenuous U.S./Pakistan Relationship," and David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post. He recently returned from a reporting trip to Pakistan.

And welcome back to you both. Shuja Nawaz, beginning with you, how serious is this rift over the helicopter raids and the blocked border crossing?

SHUJA NAWAZ, director of South Asia Center, The Atlantic Council: I think it reflects the general mistrust, which is pretty deep.

And it was extremely badly handled, I believe, by NATO and by the coalition. The apology that was tendered today could have easily been done at the very outset, which would have stopped the — the Pakistanis using the — the blockage of the convoys in Torkham. And it would have been resolved quite directly and immediately.

They missed an opportunity. They got caught in legalese. I believe, based on one report that I have received, that helicopters were actually returning back towards Afghanistan when they came upon this post on which they fired. If that is correct, then NATO should have been aware of that.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you read this David?

DAVID IGNATIUS, columnist, The Washington Post: Well, as your report showed, this is a week in which all the tensions that are in this relationship were evident.

Whenever I — I look at Pakistan and at the relationship, I — I try to caution myself that public pronouncements, public anger doesn’t tell you the whole story. The reality right now is that these are two countries that need each other badly, and they have a history of patching things together and muddling through.

And you would have to guess that, in this case, that will happen again. But I last week was in Pakistan. I had the experience two days before this helicopter attack in which members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps were killed by American fire visiting a training camp northwest of Peshawar in which U.S. special forces, sort of in secret, are training members of that same Frontier Corps to go out and fight in the tribal areas. So that shows the degree of complexity in this relationship.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes. Pakistan and the U.S. really are engaged in a covert war inside Pakistan, much more than either side acknowledges, right?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Yes. And, for quite a long time, the civilian government has been speaking out of both sides of its mouth, and it has actually inflamed public opinion, particularly regarding the drones. The — in September, we have had…

MARGARET WARNER: Which are the drone attacks, unmanned Predator drone attacks that have seen a huge increase in September.

SHUJA NAWAZ: Yes. In September, it was the largest ever number of attacks in any one month since the drone attacks began in the region.

But now, in recent months, the government had stopped using this as a stick to beat the U.S. with. And public opinion was gradually accepting them. But, clearly, now, with the timetable looming, the U.S. and the coalition is going to be forced into all these measures to regain momentum.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about the timetable that President Obama has set to begin to dial back in Afghanistan, which is middle of next year.

SHUJA NAWAZ: Yes. Yes. And that’s going to create tensions within Pakistan, and particularly, as you reported, in North Waziristan, where they have a huge force presence, something like 35,000 men. But they haven’t moved against Haqqani.

MARGARET WARNER: The Haqqani Network, the al-Qaida-allied network.

So, David, is there essentially a fundamental difference between Pakistan and the U.S. over how to fight or to what degree to fight al-Qaida and its affiliates, or is it because the Pakistani military is stretched too thin?

DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, the Pakistani military says that’s why it can’t conduct the offensive in North Waziristan that the U.S. would like. And I think most U.S. officials recognize that, certainly after the flood, they are stretched too thin, that they probably couldn’t do it.

When I talked to Pakistani commanders in this zone, in Peshawar and outside, they basically said, don’t expect us to clear North Waziristan this year or probably even next year.

And I think the frustration for the U.S. is, basically, we’re looking at this porous border. The Haqqani Network, really one of the most bloodthirsty, in our view, factions of the Taliban, streaming in, I think General Petraeus is saying that…

MARGARET WARNER: Into Afghanistan.

DAVID IGNATIUS: Into Afghanistan. And General Petraeus is saying to the Pakistanis, either you do this, or we will do this.

We don’t really have the forces to back that up. And so, in the end, it’s not being done. There’s tremendous frustration. I think U.S. commanders see the time ticking out on their mission in Afghanistan, knowing that, unless they close the safe havens, they have got trouble.

MARGARET WARNER: So, that brings up Afghanistan front and center. Do the two governments actually have different — a key difference in their aims there? What’s the end state they would like to see?

SHUJA NAWAZ: I think Pakistan, like most countries in the region, heard the president’s speech at West Point last year, and saw July 2011 as the date by which the American military would begin withdrawing.

And the speed is not clear. But that’s what they heard, and that’s what they are hedging their bets on. Clearly, they don’t see a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. Success will be defined by how quickly the Afghans take over the fight and how much reconciliation can bring back people like Haqqani or other elements of the Taliban.

MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, Petraeus and Karzai are saying the same thing, essentially, that it has to be a political solution. So, what’s — what’s the friction point between Washington and Islamabad on the Afghan conflict?

DAVID IGNATIUS: The friction point is that — is that the Pakistani government would like to be the key broker of any deal that’s done with the Taliban.

And they feel now that they’re being excluded. They hear reports about the U.S., the Karzai government, the British, various people talking with elements of the Taliban.

I actually think there’s a little less going on than the news of the last week might suggest in terms of real progress. It’s in the U.S. interest, of course, for the Taliban to think that there are elements of the Taliban that are doing a secret deal, and that will sow division.

But the Pakistanis are very frustrated. They think they’re being cut out of something. And they’re saying, you have got to bring us in, because it won’t work otherwise.

MARGARET WARNER: You know, underlying, both in this report, this NSC document, and also in the Woodward book is of course the fundamental nervousness in Washington about the stability of the civilian government, given that Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state.

Do you think that’s well-founded?

SHUJA NAWAZ: I think there’s adequate evidence of the weakness of the civilian government. It’s been evident in the recent floods in Pakistan and the very poor and tardy response to that, and the fact that the military had to step in and even withdraw 70,000 troops from the borders in order to cope with that.

So, that has really upset the — the very delicate balance inside the country.

MARGARET WARNER: Between the military and the civilian government?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Exactly. And that’s something that the U.S. and Pakistan should be aware of, because Pakistan’s needs are now going to be enormous for a number of years to come. And rather than have this kind of Mexican standoff on attacks across the border and closing the — the supply route, they need to focus on where that aid is going to come from.

Pakistan will need the aid. The U.S. needs Pakistan to ensure stability in Afghanistan leading up to July 2011 and beyond.

MARGARET WARNER: But the real nightmare scenario is that neither military, nor civilian government in Pakistan can hold it together, and that these nuclear weapons can fall into other hands.


MARGARET WARNER: Is — how nervous are the people you talk to about that?

DAVID IGNATIUS: I think the nervousness about the nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban is more something in the press than — I think that’s viewed…

MARGARET WARNER: So, that’s not driving this?

DAVID IGNATIUS: … as an unlikely scenario. This report that the White House just sent to Congress is stunningly frank about how badly things are going in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reading the discussion, this issue of the civilian government, a weak civilian government vs. the military, you almost have the feeling that’s what’s happened — and the U.S. is — is really recognizing this — is a kind of soft military intervention.

The military is now the decisive force in just about everything. And this report basically says, that’s so. It doesn’t endorse it, but it accepts that it’s reality.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, this very frank tone in this, as you said. David Ignatius, Shuja Nawaz, thank you.

Developments in Pakistan Won’t Help Relationship with the U.S.

Pakistan Protest

Even as the recently released tell-all Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward raises fresh doubts about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and will likely stoke mistrust in the United States about Pakistan as a partner against the Afghan Taliban, a series of stories that paint the Pakistani army in a negative light will undoubtedly contribute to the tensions. These events occur against the backdrop of heightened U.S. drone activity inside Pakistan’s border region and at least two reported NATO helicopter attacks on Pakistani soil. How the Pakistani army sees these events and addresses the ensuing challenges will have enormous impacts on the future trajectory of South Asia, as well as the direction of Pakistan’s fragile democracy.

First, there was the reported kidnapping of The News journalist Umar Cheema and the standard operating procedures of Pakistani intelligence agencies used to humiliate and torture him, according to his detailed account of the incident. Other than denials, there does not appear to be a clear or detailed explanation from the government or the Inter Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan’s top spy agency, of who did this, nor any indication from the government that a rapid and credible public inquiry is underway. In the absence of such actions, rumors will fly and allegations will be made that will undermine the state and its agencies.

Second, there has been a new viral video released on the Internet purporting to be a record of extrajudicial killing of blindfolded Pashtun captives in civilian clothes by Urdu-speaking (that is, non-Pashtun) soldiers in army uniforms and carrying standard army weapons. The presence of a senior person identified in the soundtrack as "Tanveer Sahib" may implicate an officer in this incident. According to the New York Times, the Pakistani military initially dismissed the video as a forgery. The Times later reported that the army had investigated the incident, found it to be genuine, and promised to act against the perpetrators.

Fairly or not, this video and other negative stories about the army’s operations and its behind-the-scenes role in Pakistani politics will likely be seen within Pakistan as coordinated and hostile actions from outside Pakistan to put pressure on the Pakistan army to bend to U.S. demands on a number of fronts. The army’s readiness to move against the elements involved in these killings speaks to its new and informed leadership. Similar reports of extrajudicial killings in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971 were brushed aside by the army at that time. They lost the hearts and minds of the local population, fuelled an insurgency, and created a refugee stream into India that drew that country into invading East Pakistan to help create Bangladesh. By contrast, in June 1992, an incident in Sindh province earlier described by the army in Sindh as an "encounter" with local robbers was openly investigated by the army high command, following a BBC report of killings by an army major as a favor to a local landlord. The major was court-martialed and sentenced to death. Senior officers who failed to investigate the incident adequately and participated in covering it up were removed or dismissed to much public acclaim. The army’s stock went up in the public eye.

The current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will need to confront this latest allegation head-on and quickly rather than let it simmer and adversely affect public support for the military as well as morale inside the institution. If a "rogue officer" was at work giving his troops an unlawful command to murder civilian prisoners, then the army needs to clear it up in a manner that will identify and bring to court the culprits and help educate the rest of its officers and troops against similar actions. At a time when the civilian government is under stress and economic and political problems have besieged it, it is important that the army is seen as a stable entity working with the government for the common good.

General Kayani also faces a challenge on the border from the U.S. and NATO. A first incursion into Pakistan seemed to have been handled quickly by him and Adm. Mike Mullen to reduce unhappiness on the Pakistan side. They spoke and decided not to add to the public rhetoric. But now an additional incident in Kurram involving a NATO helicopter attack that reportedly killed three soldiers of the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary force that patrols the tribal areas, has led to the closing of the border to NATO supplies for Afghanistan and a public rebuke from the government of Pakistan.

This situation could easily careen out of control. The Obama administration, which is unhappy with what it perceives as Pakistan’s lack of action against anti-American militants, is seriously miscalculating if it is using such tactics to pressure Pakistan to launch operations against its will. Better to argue your case behind closed doors, as allies should — or risk a public split. Similarly, Pakistan risks overestimating its leverage over the United States and NATO by shutting down the coalition’s supply routes across the Durand Line. If anything, this embargo will accelerate the U.S. drive to diversify its logistics chain — while taking money out of Pakistanis’ pockets.

There is some positive news. On Thursday, Kayani announced a fresh list of newly promoted three-star generals, completing his team of senior officers who will outlast his own new three-year term at the helm of the army. By all accounts, he has chosen tried and tested professionals and superseded some Musharraf loyalists. As with the lieutenant generals promoted in April, he has by and large selected apolitical and professional soldiers with a broad, mature view of the world and of Pakistan’s place in it. Many of them have topped their classes at the military academy, winning the Sword of Honour, or have attended advanced military courses abroad, as has Kayani. Here’s hoping they get their chance to prove that Pakistani’s military can be a force for stability in South Asia, and a voice for the rule of law at home.

Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. This essay first appeared at’s AfPak Channel. Photo credit: Getty Images.

General Musharraf’s Return

Musharraf Returns

  "Today, God has given me the opportunity to set the tone for my political legacy. Come join me in changing Pakistan’s destiny. It is not an easy task but one we must work for, as Pakistan is ours. ‘All Pakistan Muslim League’ is our platform from where I will work tirelessly to serve Pakistan and bring back national unity-Pakistan First."  With those words on one of his Facebook pages, as promised, former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf appears to have launched his new political party out of London. Clearly, he is attuned to the technology of today. But is he attuned to Pakistan?

Musharraf claims to have more than 300,000 youth followers. He has also attracted some serious Pakistani Diaspora supporters, including successful entrepreneurs. But his key support comes from his inner team whom he promoted while in power in Pakistan. Few major politicians inside the country appear to have spoken publicly about their support for him. Some who have met him and then are reported by his media staff to have considered joining his campaign to return to Pakistan in political triumph privately deny that they wish to join him. If his advance guard is telling him that the ground is ready for him in Pakistan, Musharraf needs to do some independent checking. The deck is stacked against him.

First, he faces personal danger from the moment he lands. The militants whom he challenged and attacked have long memories. Second, the leading political parties are more than likely to coalesce against him at the provincial and federal level. He knows well from his own time in power that the rules of the game favor those in power. Imposition of restrictions on public gatherings, closure of meeting places, and other ways of disrupting a political campaign, including ostensibly for Musharraf’s own personal safety (as he did by imposing restrictions on Benazir Bhutto immediately after her return in 2007) will likely hobble his campaign. His own Pakistan Muslim League (Q), also known as the King’s Party during his presidency, has split and is largely out of the central political game for now. If Musharraf can manage to bring all the bits and pieces of the Muslim League together under his new All Pakistan Muslim League, he may have a core to launch his campaign. But current indications are not very bright on that score. The Muslim League over time has become known as a party of hangers-on and relies on official largesse for life support. Out of power generals and politicians cannot give the Muslim League what it needs to survive.

And then there is the Pakistani Army. It has turned the corner on its former chief, as it always does. A previous Army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, found little support inside army headquarters when he launched his party. He has had no traction since. Indeed, few Pakistanis would be able to tell you its name (the Awami Qiyadat Party). Recent conversations with officers at different ranks and including many senior generals about Musharraf’s standing indicate clearly that they resent what they call Musharraf’s move away from professionalism of the army and infusion of the army into civilian jobs. They are trying to restore that inner core of the army’s professionalism now and would resist being drawn into the political fray by Musharraf’s return. Most of Musharraf’s favorite generals are no longer in key positions inside the army. Some of them have been superseded in the recent promotions as General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chosen by Musharraf to succeed himself, puts his own stamp on the upper echelons of the army and on the institution as a whole. Finally, the chances of Musharraf being charged with "high treason" and other crimes for upending a democratically elected government in October 1999 and thus drawing the Pakistan army into the defendant’s box in court worry the military high command enormously.

While the weakness of the current civilian government may appear to be a tempting target, the negatives surrounding Musharraf’s return militate against the successful rebirth of Musharraf the politician. For his own sake and to save Pakistan from further political turmoil, he may wish to re-examine his plans to return. He could do a lot for Pakistan from his current perch abroad by drawing together bright young Pakistanis who could share their knowledge and experience and help foster the rebirth of civil society, using the technological instruments of our times to foster change for the better. He could also perform the role of a philanthropist and an apolitical spokesman for Pakistanis at home and abroad rather than someone who is missing the trappings of power.  As he would put it, he needs to place "Pakistan first!"

Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. This essay first appeared at’s AfPak Channel.