Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dealing with Pakistan

Nine years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States is still trying to figure out how to manage relations with Pakistan — and what mix of inducements and public and private pressures will persuade Islamabad to fully commit to the fight against extremists.

The Obama administration is working hard to cultivate top Pakistani officials. There are regular high-level visits. In March, a senior Pakistani delegation visited Washington for a strategic dialogue with the Americans that seems to be building trust and cooperation across a range of government agencies.

An April visit to Islamabad by the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, and Leon Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was a reminder of the limits of American power. They warned officials of severe consequences if an attack on American soil is traced back to Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s proximity to Afghanistan, its nuclear arsenal and the fragility of its government, it is not clear how much punishment Washington would ever mete out.

Pakistan has its own horrifying reminders that the fight against terrorism is not just America’s fight. On Friday, gunmen and suicide bombers stormed two mosques in Lahore, killing at least 80 worshipers.

Pakistan’s Army has mounted big offensives against Pakistani Taliban factions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. It has hesitated in North Waziristan where Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the failed Times Square bombing, reportedly received support and training. Intelligence-sharing has improved, but there is a lot more to be done as the Shahzad case showed.

So why isn’t Pakistan doing all it needs to?

Part of that is the strategic game. Islamabad has long used extremist groups in its never-ending competition with India. Part is a lack of military capability and part political cowardice. While some of Pakistan’s top leaders may “get it,” the public definitely does not.

The United States still does not have a good enough strategy for winning over Pakistan’s people, who are fed a relentless diet of anti-American propaganda.
As The Times reported on Wednesday, the United States is often blamed for everything from water shortages to trying to destroy the Pakistani state. The Obama administration came in determined to change that narrative. When he was in the Senate, Joseph Biden, now the vice president, worked with Richard Lugar on a $7.5 billion, five-year aid package that would prove American concern for the Pakistani people (not just the military) by investing in schools, hospitals and power projects.

Congress approved the first $1.5 billion for 2010, but the State Department is still figuring out how to spend it. The projects need to move as quickly as possible. And Pakistani leaders who demand more help, but then cynically disparage the aid, need to change their narrative.

The State Department also needs to move faster to implement its public diplomacy plan for Pakistan. Officials need to think hard about how to make sure Pakistanis know that aid is coming from the United States — like the $51 million for upgrading three thermal power plants announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in October. It is a delicate issue, but the “made in America” label has to be affixed.

The State Department has committed to spend $107 million over two years to help Pakistanis better understand the United States. Plans include bringing 2,500 Pakistani academics and others on exchange visits and expanding after-school English classes in Pakistan. There also are proposals to bring more American academics to Pakistan and to reopen cultural centers. They should move ahead. An initiative to make more American officials available to speak directly to Pakistanis has shown promise.

Changing Pakistani attitudes about the United States will take generations. The Shahzad case is one more reminder that there is no time to lose. International Herald Tribune editorial

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