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U.S. and Pakistan: Will a Strategic Partnership Falter After Bin Laden Raid?

May 9, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
After bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces during a raid in Abbottabad, tensions are on the rise between the U.S. and Pakistan. Ray Suarez discusses the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations with former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin and Lawrence Wright, author of a book that focuses on the origins of al-Qaida.

RAY SUAREZ: Two views now on how the United States should deal with Pakistan.

Wendy Chamberlin was the U.S. ambassador there in 2001 and 2002. She is now president of the Middle East Institute. Lawrence Wright is the author of “The Looming Tower,” on the origins of al-Qaida. His article “The Double Game” on the U.S. and Pakistan appears in this week’s New Yorker.

Ambassador, leaders in both countries today talked about how important it was to maintain this relationship. Was that a sign that, however flawed it is, they’re kind of stuck with each other?

WENDY CHAMBERLIN, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan: Well, we’re stuck with each other. And we need each other. And it’s very important to both of our national objectives that we maintain a good relationship.

Look, this has been a tough week, a lot of loose talk, a lot of dangerous talk on both sides, on our part, people threatening to cut off aid — I think it’s a mistake — on their part, equally angry words about expelling military trainers and liaison and intelligence types, also very dangerous.

I think Prime Minister Gilani’s speech today is an effort to try to walk it back. And I’m sure he had full consultation with his senior military advisers. They met midweek, commander — commanders meeting. And I’m sure they had a lot to say at that meeting and advice on how to get back to a more normal relationship with the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: Lawrence Wright, despite the difficulties, are these two countries tied to each other?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, “The Looming Tower”: Well, we do have a serious relationship, but we have got real relationship problems, too.

And we have — over the years since the Cold War, we have given billions and billions of dollars to Pakistan, with the goal of creating a reliable, stable American ally. But if the behaviors that we have seen in Pakistan in the last several years are those of an ally, we have to redefine the term.

RAY SUAREZ: So, what should the posture of the United States be toward Pakistan, given the revelation that Osama bin Laden may have been living in that house for years?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: I think that — and I have thought for some time before, even this revolution, we should — revelation — we should scale back on our military contribution to Pakistan.

I think that we have over endowed that institution and capsized the civil society. There’s a lot of Pakistanis that agree. They feel that they want trade not aid. And if I were suggesting a solution to this problem, I would say give them the textile credits, tax credits, that they have been seeking and drastically cut back on military aid.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, how do you respond to that case to cut back on the military side of the relationship?

WENDY CHAMBERLIN: Well, I — let me just agree wholeheartedly with Larry’s point about increasing civilian aid. And I think that’s what the Obama administration has tried to do with the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds, an effort to give substantial contribution to the civilian developmental aid. There’s been talk about cutting that back. It would be a huge mistake.

It would just feed the anti-American narrative that is out there that goes something like: We use Pakistan, as soon as we get what we want, we leave them. We abandon them. They use the example of our introducing the Pressler sanctions in the early ’90s after they claimed they helped us evict the Soviets, and we introduced the sanctions because they were developing a nuclear weapons program.

But I think civilian aid is very important. But can I just say one more thing? Let’s understand what civilian aid can do and what it cannot do. It cannot buy us hearts and minds in a nation as complicated and as large as Pakistan. You don’t buy friends. It’s not transactional.

What you do with assistance is you build prosperous, educated, healthy people. You support a middle class, the technocrats, because they then provide the security that we need in that region.

RAY SUAREZ: But, quickly, Ambassador, on the military side, Lawrence Wright has maintained in his writing…


RAY SUAREZ: … that we have kind of distorted the Pakistani state by creating a robust military and a weak state overall, with the emphasis on the military in our aid.

WENDY CHAMBERLIN: Well again, I would agree on certain elements of what he said.

I think our military aid has been important to us in working with Pakistan, in fighting the counterterrorism effort. They have certainly made a major effort. They have lost 5,000 soldiers doing it.

But — but, on the other hand, we have also enabled some behavior in the military that is not in our interests. And we haven’t been tough enough in our dialogue, in drilling down, and telling them what we will accept and not accept.

Example: The military still supports the Haqqani group of the Taliban. They cross the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan and attack NATO troops. There is certainly a relationship with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a local internal terrorist group that — from Punjab that attacked Mumbai. That’s a relationship that the military has long had that we cannot accept and shouldn’t.

RAY SUAREZ: Lawrence Wright, there have been allegations on both sides about bad dealing in this relationship.

Does public pressure from the United States, threats to cut off aid, run the risk of making things worse?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: We’re at a mortal moment in our relationship with Pakistan. And either way we go, we’re going to change our relationship. The question is what is a healthy relationship for us?

If we look back in the history of the billions of dollars that we have provided the military, they use that money to — they misappropriated that money to arm themselves against our ally, India. They used that money to develop their nuclear weapons, which plans they and materials they went off and sold to the — our worst enemies in the world, to Iran, to North Korea and to Libya.

They even opened up negotiations with al-Qaida. Now, we have to figure out a different way of being in a relationship with this. And we can’t continue to fund that. American taxpayers are funding the military which seems to be funding — using that American taxpayer money to fund the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. And this kind of thing cannot go on.

It’s — and I don’t think American taxpayers are going to stand for it very much longer. There are 180 million people in Pakistan. Fewer than two million of them are taxpayers. At some point, Pakistan is going to have to step forward and take responsibility for being a real state, and not a failed one.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you heard the ambassador talk about the, really, rogue links inside the government with terrorist groups, both in Pakistan and in other places in the world.

Are there civil institutions, are there leaders that the United States can actually talk to and have a relationship that goes forward that addresses some of the weaknesses inside Pakistan?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: I think that, if we begin to address the civilian portion of the Pakistani society, we will find those people.

But right now our only relationship — and, for years, our only relationship with Pakistan has been through the military. And we haven’t even really sought out those kinds of relationships. That’s why I think that our posture towards Pakistan has to change.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, what do you think?

WENDY CHAMBERLIN: Well, I think that’s largely true.

I think our — we have had very close ties with the military and with the educated elites that — that get elected to Parliament and president. But there is an emerging third wave, a class, in Pakistan that we have neglected. And that’s the middle class, the Pakistanis that don’t have their suitcases packed to go to their apartments in Dubai, if it goes up, that don’t get to send their kids to school in the U.S. and in Britain.

And we need to work with this — this middle class in — hey, that was the lesson of the Arab spring. But we need to do much more to reach out to them.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there, as Lawrence Wright suggests, possibilities on the civilian side right now? There have been a lot of critics inside the United States of the current prime minister and current president.

WENDY CHAMBERLIN: Well, I would do some of the things that I think Larry suggested.

I would — it’s trade, not aid, enterprise funds. We should be encouraging entrepreneurship to help some of these young, educated and quite savvy English-speaking middle-class youth develop their own economies. There’s a lot we could do.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, Lawrence Wright, thank you both — both very much.

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: It was a pleasure. Thank you.