October 19, 2010

"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."

George Bush said that on 11 September 2001. And whatever you think of the former president, not distinguishing between transnational terror groups and the individuals, groups and states that sponsor them makes a high degree of sense. What to do, then, about a country that, on the one hand, supplies much of the intelligence that allows the United States and its allies to target al-Qaeda but, on the other hand, most certainly also sponsors transnational terror groups to promote its own foreign policy? That's our Pakistan problem in a nutshell, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that U.S. policy toward Pakistan is schizophrenic, with us alternating between sticks and carrots, creating a dynamic that, from the Pakistani perspective, must make little sense and certainly fails to establish a coherent and enduring structure of incentives for collaboration.

Pakistan specialists talk of Pakistan's strategic triangle and the way it relies on the possession of nuclear weapons, a robust conventional army, and state-sponsored terror groups to advance Pakistani interests. I can understand how a smart old Pakistan hand like Ryan Crocker could then argue we should support Pakistan anyway, but at some point, support for the Pakistanis is just going to cease making sense to Americans and their representatives in the Congress. Americans will begin to wonder how we got from the president's words on 11 September to this. And it might not take another terror attack, emanating from Pakistani soil, to change the relationship.

I'm curious, though, to hear from my Islamabad-based blogging partner how he would square the circle facing U.S. policy-makers.