June 21, 2017

Restructuring the Defense Relationship with Pakistan

By Stephen Tankel

As the Trump administration plans to send several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan, it continues to grapple with a comprehensive strategy for the region. Any such strategy will need to account for Pakistan, which remains a safe haven for the Taliban-led insurgency but also provides the United States with supply routes into Afghanistan and critical counterterrorism cooperation. Congress is currently conducting its own rethink of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, especially military assistance, where imposing conditions has failed to achieve maximalist objectives related to Pakistan’s support for terrorism. 

There are no silver bullets for radically altering Pakistan’s behavior in the near term and no way to avoid engaging with it on Afghanistan or counterterrorism. Any strategy for the region must include a relationship with Pakistan that is durable enough to allow for the use of incentives or coercion depending on Pakistani behavior without risking the limited, but critical, cooperation America currently receives.

The report argues that policymakers should reduce the scope of the defense relationship to put it on a more sustainable footing, shift from using unilateral conditions on large aid packages to incentivizing limited actions that could alter conditions on the ground, and consider employing escalatory coercion. There are various ways of implementing this framework, which is designed to increase the relationship’s rate of return and allow more flexibility when it comes to various instruments of statecraft. The report recommends the United States:

  1. End Coalition Support Fund reimbursements and/or modify the reimbursement categories. CSF reimburses military operations that Pakistan would conduct anyway. Congress should institute a glide slope that ends CSF in the next two years, providing time to negotiate a separate agreement to maintain supply lines into Afghanistan.
    1. In the time it takes to wind down CSF, or if Congress does not see fit to end the program, it should revise the reimbursement categories to incentivize actions that Pakistan’s military understands are necessary but does not prioritize.
  2. Preserve security assistance and introduce positive conditionality. Congress should use some of the money saved by ending CSF to preserve $200-250 million in military and civilian security assistance. This is ultimately less expensive than maintaining reimbursements and would provide policymakers more control over how money is spent. Congress should create at least two separate streams of assistance.
    1. One would provide assistance for shared objectives, where the two countries converged on how it is used. Assistance would not have conditions, but the administration would negotiate an assistance roadmap with Pakistan.
    2. The second would be directed toward areas where the United States and Pakistan agree on objectives, but diverge over how to achieve them. This assistance would come with conditions for how assistance is used or be dispensed via a grant program modeled on those administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
  3. Consider a range of coercive mechanisms. Policymakers should only employ escalatory coercion if they have established two end points: one where the United States has achieved a realistic objective; and another where the risks to U.S. interests outweigh the damage to U.S. credibility if the United States backs away from the escalatory cycle. 
  4. Close the Office of the Defense Representative, Pakistan (ODRP). ODRP should transition into a smaller and more traditional security cooperation office under the purview of the Defense Attaché (DATT) to reduce the U.S. defense footprint.
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