Shuja Nawaz on U.S.-Pakistan Relations after the Osama bin Laden Operation

Highlight - Nawaz

The successful U.S. Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1 has raised questions about whether Pakistani officials knew of bin Laden’s location. Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, appeared on several media outlets to comment on the future of fragile U.S.-Pakistan relations in the wake of bin Laden’s death.

May 15, 2011 – C-SPAN’s Washington Journal – Future of U.S.-Pakistan Relations

May 5, 2011 – American Enterprise Institute Panel Discussion – The Death of Bin Laden and the Future of Pakistan  

May 5, 2011 – PBS ‘NewsHour’ – Amid Bin Laden Inquiries, How Can U.S., Pakistan Rebuild Relations? 

May 4, 2011 – NPR’s ‘Tell Me More’ – Reconsidering America’s Relationship With Pakistan  

 May 4, 2011 – KCRW’s ‘To The Point’ -Afghanistan and Pakistan, after Osama bin Laden – Interview begins at 07:28

May 3, 2011 –  Congressional Testimony – U.S. Terrorism Threats Emanating From Pakistan

May 2, 2011 – Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National’s Breakfast 

Audio (.mp3)



To schedule interviews with any of our experts, please contact Mary Micevych, Assistant Director of Public Affairs, at [email protected]

Shuja Nawaz: Congressional Testimony on U.S. Terrorism Threats From Pakistan

Highlight - Nawaz

Shuja Nawaz, the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center director, testified before the U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on U.S. terrorism threats emanating from Pakistan. Nawaz was joined by Frederick Kagan, American Enterprise Institute, Seth Jones, RAND Corporation, and Stephen Tankel, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mr. Nawaz’s testimony begins at 43:50.

Click here to view the video on C-SPAN

The Pakistan Dilemma

USA-Pakistan Flags

 U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday about Osama bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad, Pakistan raises questions about the health of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Pakistan seems to have helped the United States track down bin Laden’s lair, as Obama acknowledged. But it is unclear whether Pakistan was involved in planning the mission that brought U.S. Special Forces on helicopters from Afghanistan to deep within Pakistani territory to kill him. If it was not, the raid was yet one more example of the deep distrust between the United States and Pakistan and may reflect poorly on Pakistan’s ability to defend its air space against such intrusions — something that would surely hurt its standing in the eyes of the Pakistani public.

In the United States, Obama’s announcement has been met with a flood of questions about the location of bin Laden’s hideout — it was near a military academy and an army cantonment — and what it means about the Pakistani military’s relationship with bin Laden. Proximity, of course, does not establish a direct association. But if evidence does surface that Pakistani authorizes were complicit in creating the hideout, then all bets are off. The U.S.-Pakistani friendship is in serious trouble.
Of course, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship had seemed to be spiraling downward for some time. On March 17, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, condemned an early March U.S. drone attack in the town of Datta Khel, in the North Waziristan tribal region, that is reported to have killed 41. In his public remarks, Kayani said that “such aggression against [the] people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances.” Privately, he warned U.S. interlocutors not to force him "to react" again, hinting at the possibility that Pakistan might start shooting down drones in its territory. At the same time, he announced that he would cut whole categories of U.S. personnel posted in Pakistan, although he did not say which ones.
Then, in mid-April, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, visited CIA Director Leon Panetta, reportedly to discuss the ISI’s demands for more control over U.S. spy programs in Pakistan. It remains unclear if he pushed for a written agreement on reining in U.S. activities or one on intelligence cooperation, since neither outcome was announced.
The rift comes at a bad time for both countries. The United States needs Pakistani help to stabilize Afghanistan before its planned exit scheduled to begin this July. Moreover, without Pakistani cooperation, it will be impossible to dismantle the Taliban’s safe havens in northwestern Pakistan, or continue to use the land routes over the Afghan-Pakistani border to supply U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.
Pakistan also needs the United States — mostly for financial support. The Coalition Support Fund, which the United States set up after 9/11 to reimburse allied countries for their assistance in the war on terror, still covers a large proportion of Pakistan’s military expenditures for counterinsurgency efforts — some $9 billion since the fund was established. Since 2001, the United States has also paid Pakistan $13 billion in military aid and $6.6 billion in economic assistance, with more to come.
Still, the Pakistani military is galled by the general sense that it has been reduced to an army for hire, and many of the generals now argue that the United States is treating the country as a client state, not as an ally. As Kayani’s remarks indicated, the CIA drone strikes in Pakistani territory deeply anger both the Pakistani military and public. It is unclear, however, whether Pakistan will actually refuse to cooperate with the United States, or even could if it wanted to. Behind Kayani’s and Pasha’s tough talk, there is no real consensus between the civilian government and the military on how Pakistan should deal with the United States.
For years, Pakistan’s civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, has stoked popular resentment against the drone program by ritualistically denouncing it as an infringement on national sovereignty. (Pakistan’s previous government, that of President Pervez Musharraf, also followed that strategy.) In November 2010, however, WikiLeaks revealed that the Zardari administration had been providing intelligence to the CIA for the program all the while. Now, the civilian government is in an awkward position: it wants the drone attacks to continue on the Pakistani Taliban, which it considers a threat to its rule, but it cannot be caught supporting them again. The Pakistani role in bin Laden’s capture and death will only add to public sentiment against the government. 
The civilian government also wants to improve its overall relationship with the United States. Zardari and Gilani’s standing in Pakistan is precarious, and they see the Obama administration as a key pillar of support for their continued rule, even though the United States has often gone directly to the Pakistani military when it wanted something done quickly. Still, in a March 2011 quest to resume the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which the Zardari administration hoped to use as a venue for bringing together the Pakistani military and civilian government with the U.S. government to improve economic, political, and military ties, Zardari sent his foreign secretary to Washington. And now, Zardari is preparing for his own friendly visit to Washington later this spring.
But already, the civilian government’s plans for reconciliation have started to fall apart. The Strategic Dialogue is lagging; its spring 2011 meeting was postponed indefinitely after the last drone attacks. And the new U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, has yet to take on the task of repairing U.S.-Pakistan ties, having just been named to the post in February. There are indications that his remit will be narrower than that of his predecessor, Richard Holbrooke, and mainly include the economic dialogue Holbrooke initiated.
Moreover, the military’s démarche around the recent Kerry-Lugar bill looms large in the civilian government’s memory. The 2009 bill proposed tripling U.S. aid to the civilian government and placing military aid under some restrictions. The Pakistani military publicly denounced the bill and demanded that the government do the same. The United States then softened the terms of the bill. This was a tremendous embarrassment for Pakistan’s civilian government. But the bill proceeded on course. And by all accounts, it seems to have learned the lesson well, allowing the military to do mostly as it pleases; when questioned after Pasha’s recent trip to Washington, Gilani explained that he had authorized it but could not affirm that he had planned it.
For their part, Pakistan’s military and intelligence are united in their desire to assert their autonomy from the United States. They maintain that, because of its strategic location and importance, Pakistan should have more leeway to drive counterinsurgency operations than it currently does. U.S. funding has been important but many  Pakistanis argue that the country gets by mostly thanks to the $10 billion in remittances that come annually from Pakistanis overseas — a much larger financial flow than U.S. aid.
Pakistanis’ growing sense of autarky has led them to overplay their hand in negotiations with the United States. Realistically, the Pakistani economy would collapse without U.S. funding and the accompanying flows from Western international financial agencies, and the military would have to scale back significantly. The military, therefore, would be loath to see U.S. support go but probably does not believe that the United States would cut aid. In fact, although the Kerry-Lugar bill pledges $1.5 billion a year for five years to Pakistan, the United States has not fully committed the funds. This qualification seems to be lost on Pakistanis. When it comes time later this year to plan to release the money for 2012, a cash-strapped U.S. Congress could very well decide that it has better things to pay for than an intransigent Pakistani military.
Indeed, the United States tends to see the greater application of military and political pressure as the key to forcing Pakistan to act, for example, against the Taliban sanctuaries in its territory. This is a mistake. Pressuring Pakistan’s civilian government does not work, because the government is not in a position to guide policy. Applying pressure on the military does not work either, because it only deepens the military’s resistance and does not change its calculation that regional interests are better served by alighnign with insurgents as a hedge against India’s growing role in Afghanistan.
Rather than publicly placing demands on Pakistan, Washington should be working with Pakistan to make counterinsurgency efforts truly cooperative. Although the CIA operates in Pakistan, it appears to share very little information with either the military or civilian government. As controversy over Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot two Pakistanis in the street in Lahore, showed, even U.S. diplomats were barely aware of what CIA agents were doing in the country. In such an atmosphere of mistrust, miscalculation rules on both sides. And although the two militaries seem to work fairly well together on training and joint exercises, their broader relationship would improve if the United States allowed the Pakistani military some participation in strategic decisionmaking, especially in decisions related to the drone program. This is highly unlikely, of course, but important nonetheless.
The alternative is an ever greater U.S.-Pakistani rift. Pakistan’s economy and polity are already in shambles. Sectarian and ethnic violence are increasing. Inflation and shortages of power and food are widespread. Unemployment is rising, and a coming youth bulge portends difficult days ahead. Besides hindering any progress on Afghanistan and insurgency, a rift would exacerbate this dire situation. It is time, therefore, for the two sides to work out their differences quickly and quietly.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. The essay originally appeared at Foreign Affairs.

After Bin Laden: The Future of the US-Pakistan Relationship


"Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people."

With those words, President Barack Obama acknowledged Pakistan’s role in the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a military cantonment, in a house that lay half a mile or so from the Pakistan Military Academy. It is unclear why, if Pakistani intelligence had the leads, it would not or could not follow up itself and do the job.

At a time when United States-Pakistan relations are going south in a hurry over aid, Afghanistan, and U.S. intelligence operations inside Pakistan, bin Laden’s death leaves more questions on the table than answers. How could four U.S. helicopters operate some 120 miles inside Pakistani territory and three of them exit without being detected? Were they allowed to do so? And by whom? Or was it Pakistan’s inability to intercept them that allowed the U.S. raid to proceed without a hitch? Clearly the civilian government was first informed when President Obama spoke with President Asif Ali Zardari after the operation was over. If Zardari’s military was in the know, and he was not, this speaks volumes about the internal distrust within Pakistan’s establishment. So far, it appears the United States kept the Pakistan military in the dark. What may be more troubling for the U.S. side is the likelihood that elements of the Pakistani establishment were aware of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad and kept it hidden. However remote a possibility this may seem, this question will be asked in Washington D.C. in the weeks to come.

American boots on the ground are much more serious in terms of invasion of Pakistan’s territory and disregard for its sovereignty than the remote drone attacks that have so angered Pakistani officials and politicians lately. The Pakistani military’s official reaction to the death of bin Laden will be telling. If this operation was carried out in close cooperation with the United States, then the trajectory of this declining relationship may be reversed. If not, then the velocity of the decline will increase at a time when the mood in Washington seems to be shifting to black toward Pakistan, on the Hill and also in parts of the Obama administration.

The Strategic Dialogue that was bringing the United States and Pakistan to the table to focus on common objectives has been suspended for now. Both sides are attempting to revive the relationship after the imbroglio over Raymond Davis and the C.I.A.’s operations inside Pakistan. The Pakistanis demand respect. So does the United States. Neither side should try to pull a fast one over the other. They are codependent in the fight against militancy and terror: the United States in trying to exit Afghanistan in an orderly fashion, Pakistan in trying to contain its internal insurgencies. The stakes may be higher for Pakistan since it remains captive of its geography and heavily tied to the U.S. aid program and the Coalition Support Funds that sustain its battles against the Pakistani Taliban. It may be a bad marriage, once again, but not one that affords an easy divorce. Perhaps a separation, followed by reconciliation?

Both Pakistan and the U.S. should be careful to keep the tone of public rhetoric down and continue the private dialogues that may yet yield agreement on common objectives. Pakistan needs U.S. help to create the stability inside Pakistan that will allow it to fight the immediate war on poverty and underdevelopment. Faced with a rising population and an ever present youth bulge, Pakistan needs to begin to govern itself better, think long term, and eschew factional politics. Its military needs the tools and the time to keep the militancy at bay but it also needs close cooperation with the civilian agencies to help it fight against terrorism in its multifarious forms inside Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden’s death may exacerbate the terrorist conditions inside Pakistan for the short run. Followers and sympathizers of al-Qaeda may well try to seek revenge against U.S. interests and the Pakistani state. But the death of al-Qaeda’s founder should not change the course that Pakistan is following to battle militancy at home and needs to follow in its neighborhood. Nor should the United States pack up and summarily exit the regional stage once more.

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