Neither the United States nor Pakistan views the other as a reliable ally. U.S. officials have tried to sweep this uncomfortable truth under the rug for too long. Colluding with militants, which Pakistan views as vital to its strategic interests, continues to hamper coalition efforts in Afghanistan. But it is time for U.S. officials to accept that no amount of pressure or persuasion will affect Pakistan’s decision to tackle militants more vigorously.
Pakistan aspires to extend its geopolitical reach by way of proxies. In itself that is an enormously self-defeating practice, but nevertheless reflects a reality Washington cannot rectify through either millions of dollars in aid or incessant bombing of Pakistan’s territory with drones. Pakistan will not shift its priorities until its leaders convince themselves that their country’s security no longer lies in covertly funding militants, especially those it has nurtured for more than 30 years.
A comprehensive South Asia strategy, however, such as brokering a settlement on Kashmir or improved relations between Islamabad and Kabul, could increase the likelihood of at least temporary peace in the region. Still, powerful social, religious, and historical forces work against such diplomatic solutions. For one, it will be incredibly difficult to cobble together a government in Afghanistan that has the support of all its key neighbors. Moreover, an agreement between India and Pakistan on Kashmir may still fail to discourage support for militarized jihad, particularly in the long run. Decades of assisting select militant groups have cemented ideological sympathies for radicalism among elements of the country’s armed forces and civilian political elite. Such sympathies cannot be turned off overnight.
U.S. officials undoubtedly understand the enormity of problems they confront in this vexing region. But these problems lead to one of two conclusions: opening formal negotiations to explore possible solutions to the problems separating these countries; or accepting that it is not within America’s power to shape the interests and expectations of competing powers in South Asia.