As the United States begins to look to the end of its heavy fighting role in Afghanistan, it needs to confront the more important question of Pakistan’s future. The United States has been a major player there for sixty years; if Pakistan is dangerously dysfunctional, Washington helped enable it to get this way. Because withdrawal from Afghanistan means that the United States will be less dependent on Pakistani supply lines into that country, this is a rare opportunity to reconsider and dramatically revise American policies and practices in this strategically important country of almost 200 million.
The United States has frequently cited its interests in Pakistan: securing Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal; preventing war between it and India; counterterrorism; inducing Pakistan’s cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan; and fostering development and democratization in what will soon be the world’s most populous Muslim-majority state. But overwhelmingly, these interests all boil down to one: the security of Pakistanis. If Pakistanis are more justly governed, more educated, more employed, and therefore more able to define and pursue a constructive national identity and interest, they will expunge terrorists to secure themselves. The United States will be better off as a result. Getting from here to there may be impossible, but it certainly will not happen if the United States continues to treat Pakistan as it has until now: as the means to pursue U.S. security interests outside the country.
For decades that posture has had the unintended but undeniable effect of empowering Pakistan’s grossly oversized and hyperactive military and intelligence services at the expense of the country’s civil society and progress toward effective governance. Washington’s collusion with the Pakistani security establishment has amounted to enablement—the indulgence and augmentation of a friend’s self-destructive outlook and actions. To stop doing harm, the United States would first have to give up the illusion that it can change the Pakistani military’s mindset, and stop offering money to do so. It would have to pause and then redesign a large aid program so hamstrung by anti-corruption and security measures that it antagonizes recipients and seems designed to fail. It would mean removing barriers to Pakistani imports into the United States, and, not least, undertaking determined efforts to correct the impression that Pakistani interests and lives mean less to the United States than Indian interests and lives.