Over the past few months an extraordinarily worrisome pattern in U.S.-Pakistan relations has emerged: one in which the Taliban make advances, senior U.S. officials raise the alarm and demand action from Pakistan, subsequent action is taken and U.S. officials offer faint praise and maintain that Pakistan is still not doing enough.
By reinforcing the appearance of a causal relationship between U.S. demands and Pakistani action, this very public approach heavily undermines U.S. national security by cementing the perception among Pakistanis that this is not in fact their war but one in which Pakistan is being coerced into fighting through U.S. threats and economic manipulation.
Winning the support of the Pakistani public is the most critical element of the U.S. strategy in defeating the Taliban and their allies. Conditional language like that in the House PEACE Act of 2009 is counterproductive to winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people as it merely reinforces the type of transactional relationship that we are trying to replace with one this is a long lasting partnership. While Congress and the Administration must continue to press Pakistan for action (and provide Pakistan the commensurate resources to do so) they must do so privately, behind closed doors and recognize the need to give Pakistan the space to create an indigenous strategy for dealing with the Taliban and its affiliates and the time to enact that strategy and communicate it to their public.
The upcoming visit of President Zardari provides an opportune moment for the U.S to do exactly that: privately communicate our legitimate concerns and demand that Pakistan independently produce and communicate a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy of their own making.
The U.S. won't always agree with that strategy such as the peace deal in Swat, but viewed from the Pakistani perspective, there is high value in demonstrating an attempt at dialogue and reconciliation before taking military action that often results in high levels of collateral damage. Not only does this provide the government of Pakistan with political cover but it clearly paints the Taliban as aggressors against the Pakistani state.
Already we have seen the formation of tribal lashkars and grassroots military opposition to the Taliban in the affected areas (though they have been largely unsupported by the Pakistani Army and therefore unsuccessful) and growing civil society protests against the Taliban in Pakistan's major cities such as the one most recently in Lahore. Pakistan's current leadership must step up and support these efforts or risk losing not only their seat in government but also large swaths of the country to the Taliban.
The issue of drones by the U.S. military has two components: one, U.S. drone attacks are seen as a violation of Pakistan sovereignty and two, they cause significant collateral damage. For these two reasons, drone attacks literally serve as recruitment drives for the Taliban. The U.S. must recognize that while drone attacks may be effective in eliminating high-value targets and are therefore effective as a tactic they undermine the larger U.S. strategy of winning Pakistani hearts and minds. Bruce Reidel who chaired the Administration's interagency review described the drone attacks as akin to "trying to kill ants one at a time."
Where the U.S. can make progress is in building a long-term relationship with the people of Pakistan by targeting our assistance to those areas most crucial to winning their support including enhancing and strengthening Pakistan's judicial system and law enforcement, creating broad-based and sustainable economic development with an emphasis on increasing local capacity, support for the public education system, refugees and internally displaced persons, and support for healthcare and public diplomacy. U.S. military assistance must target those areas most vital to the counterinsurgency campaign including helicopters, night vision equipment, and counter-IED equipment.
The Obama Administration has recognized that this is the way forward and has urged Congress to pass three bills aimed at achieving these objectives: a bill co-sponsored by Senators Kerry and Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct economic support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years, a bill that creates economic opportunity zones in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund which will provide resources to transform Pakistan's army into a more effective counterinsurgency force.
Congress must pass these bills immediately, knowing that while it waits and debates, the Taliban does not.
Taha Gaya is the Executive Director of the Pakistani American Leadership Center (PAL-C).