Courtesy Reuters

What Engagement With Pakistan Can -- And Can't -- Do

Getting Realistic About U.S. Options in South Asia

On September 22, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen, said that the United States had "credible evidence" that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directly supports the Haqqani network. It was the first time that such a high-level official publicly evoked Pakistan's double game. Many analysts interpreted the speech as a warning that the United States intended to reassess its partnership with Pakistan. In a radio interview a few days later, however, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that U.S. policy toward Pakistan would not change all that much. The intelligence about the relationship between the ISI and terrorist groups, he said, "is not as clear as we might like."

The decision to opt for continuity is based on a few major U.S. regional strategic goals and assumptions about Pakistan's internal dynamics (flawed though some of them may be).

In terms of regional goals, the United States still believes that it gets something valuable from putting up with Pakistan. The administration publicly touts Pakistan's help -- providing intelligence cooperation, arresting important terrorist leaders, and allowing the United States to step up its drone campaign -- in the fight against al Qaeda. Most of the United States' achievements were made possible by on-the-ground intelligence provided by the Pakistanis. (Pakistani cooperation led to the 2003 capture, among others, of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants and the architect of 9/11.)  Meanwhile, the number of drone strikes in Pakistan has increased from 9 between 2004 and 2007, to 33 in 2008, 53 in 2009, 118 in 2010, and 57 over the first eight months of 2011. According to Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, these strikes "killed somewhere between 1,435 and 2,283 people, of whom between 1,145 and 1,822 were described as militants in reliable press accounts." In public, the Pakistani army laments that the drone attacks violate national sovereignty, but, as is evident from many WikiLeaks cables, in private, they call the strikes  useful because they save them the pain of deploying troops to some of the most difficult terrain on

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