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AF-PAK: The Beginning of an End

Written by Mark Lelyveld  •  June 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Osama bin Laden’s body is not yet cold, but the Pakistani government is already stirring up the waters in its relations with the US government. Pakistan and the US have pushed and pulled each other, testing the tensile strength of the relationship. This time, in the shadow of Osama’s corpse, Pakistan has laid an offer of a port on the Arabian Sea at China’s doorstep.

Pakistan’s latest public flirtation with China has put America’s most dominant Asian competitor in an uncomfortable position. It is rumored that this potentially new couple is going to integrate the Chinese into Pakistan with a new seaport, infrastructure such as railroads and pipelines, but also Chinese military bases. To say that this is slightly ungrateful would be a gross understatement.

After all, Pakistan has been the recipient of more than $10 billion from the U.S. since the tragedy of 9-11, not to mention the current administration’s approval of a 5-year package at an additional $7.5 billion. Put this into perspective by remembering the economic sludge our country has been dragged through all during the same time and where that money could have been better spent for American citizens, rather than lubricating a Pakistani system hostile to both America and the American way of life. This $17.5 billion could have better been spent on Medicare, restructuring the housing market, or even to prop up the failing Detroit industry. Ultimately, the money could have improved the employment numbers in America, rather than lining Pakistani officials’ pockets.

As if Pakistan’s direct flirtation with China were not enough of a rub, their government has even encouraged neighboring Afghanistan to turn on the U.S. and pursue greener pastures with China. Afghanistan is the world’s largest recipient of US aid, but more significantly, over 1,500 American citizens have died in the attempt to bring Democracy to that land, and in finding and destroying the monster that was Osama bin Laden.

Since the assassination of bin Laden, we are more anxious than ever to remove our troops from Afghanistan. Some believe this has placed Washington in the frame of mind that Pakistan is no longer crucial to our future Middle East strategies. We might have more room to seek a better configuration with another country.

The fluidity of alliances today is akin to that which followed the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from its war with Afghanistan. It was during this time that the U.S. and Pakistan discovered their common interests and began their loving relationship. With the passing of the terrifying thought that the Soviet Union could expand, though, their relationship diminished. Now, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan simply opens the door for the flailing relationship to fly off and find new partners, for example, between India and the United States.

Former C.I.A. official, Bruce O. Reidel of the Brookings Institute explained that the less the U.S. has need of Pakistan, the stronger Dehli and Washington will forge their alliance. The natural outcome is that Pakistan will most likely pursue it’s own new friendship circle with both China and Saudi Arabia. This shift might even go further in aiding the ultimate U.S. goals in the Middle East, than trying to string out a stammering relationship with Pakistan.

For now, everything will go on, business as usual, as long as the U.S. is embroiled in its efforts in Afghanistan. The irony is that Pakistan depends heavily on U.S. funds to balance off its arms race against India. Imagine what might happen if that money dried up.

There is good reason, though, for the U.S. to look to Afghanistan for natural resources. The New York Times correspondent James Risen reported that a small group of Pentagon officials and American geologists identified over $1 trillion worth of valuable minerals in the country. The play that will be made to control this future industry may take the Taliban’s war for dominance to a new level. The U.S. needs to count the costs now and commit themselves one way or the other.

Whichever way America goes, Pakistan is sure to want a big piece of this pie. Their alliance with the Taliban may grow stronger, just in order to cull their favor and have their foot in the door for this next generation world class source of copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium (think batteries, laptops, and BlackBerry). Now all the lecturing in the world, such as that with which they were pommeled by the Bush and Obama administrations, may not deter them from supporting the Taliban. Pakistan has long resented the fact that they are dependent on American money and that they have to suffer parental chastising from American Presidents.

The Council on Foreign Relations representative, Daniel Markey, indicated that none of the area’s power players, including Iran, India, China, and Russia, have any interests in seeing the U.S. pull out of Afghanistan prematurely. The absence of a stable power would wreak havoc that could prove nearly impossible to stabilize and would leave the development of what could turn out to be the world’s largest mineral operations a mere concept unrealized.

Russia, India, and China have hoped to capitalize on these mineral deposits by supporting the building of an infrastructure needed for shipping the wealth of natural resources out of the country. The U.S. might be better served by playing this card in order to put pressure on Pakistan to convince the Haqqani, Taliban and similar Pashtun groups to cool their heals. It is doubtful the U.S. could achieve this alone, with the years of mistrust built up between them and the Pakistani government. Some naively believe that the two-faced approach of the Pakistani government might be harnessed in this process to control the volatile situation. Others realize that if this route were pursued, Pakistan would more likely simply fragment from the backlash of the Taliban.

So while some in the U.S. may feel there is less need for a relationship with Pakistan, other large players in that region of the Middle East are more pragmatic, realizing the pivotal role Pakistan and the U.S. can play in bringing some sense of stability to the Afghanistan situation. The result is that other countries may want the dance to continue, while the dancers themselves are a bit worse for wear. 


Mark Lelyveld has been writing on national security and policy for decades.  He has interviewed various policy experts for leading publications in the United States and oversees. He is very interested in how the politics of the Post-Cold War nations have evolved over the decades.

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written by Bill Commons , July 10, 2011

China has millions and billions invested in the US, and owns the bulk of the US debt presently. Do we really think that their interests will align with Pakistan just because we assume they are emotional to Pakistanis given the historical ties. What does Pakistan have to offer to China - a rising super power that US hasn't already offered in trillions in business deals? Let's not kid ourselves anymore of the Sino-Pak alliance which dates back to the Cold War. Efforts against global communism have ended.
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written by Martin , July 06, 2011

I totally agree what mark have said, all of this money which is being spent on the warfare, could be used to stabilize the country's economy or for health and education instead.
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