Our Frenemy Pakistan
Former national-security advisers counsel patience with our wayward ally.


After NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani fumed that “these dastardly attacks . . . compel us to revisit our national-security paradigm” — that is, Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S.

And Americans, none too pleased that Osama bin Laden was found within a mile of the Pakistan Military Academy, are thinking, “Yes, let’s.” Only 3 percent view the country as an ally, while 25 percent view it as an enemy and 62 percent see it as something in between, according to a recent poll by Rasmussen Reports. Sixty-five percent want to end aid to the country.

But former national-security advisers counsel patience with Pakistan, mostly because the U.S. has no other choice.

To understand Pakistan’s double-dealing, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national-security adviser to Pres. Jimmy Carter, says to look to Pakistan’s southern neighbor: India. Ever since Pakistan declared independence in 1947, it has considered its much larger rival an existential threat. And though the U.S. considers Indian assistance to Afghanistan a welcome boon, Pakistan considers it encirclement by the enemy. “The Pakistani perspective is, without controlling Afghanistan, they are vulnerable to India,” he explains. “Their basic interest is in having a situation in which Afghanistan is responsive to Pakistan’s security interest.”

Moreover, Pakistan is distrustful of the U.S., Brzezinski argues, because “we are inclined to reach agreements with India which greatly enhance India’s nuclear capabilities” as a way to counter China. “Sometimes, in a difficult situation, you have to prioritize what you do,” he adds. And the U.S. has never made that choice: What is its priority? Building Afghanistan or confronting China?

Stephen Hadley, national-security adviser to Pres. George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, thinks this argument is too kind to Pakistan. “They are clearly concerned that Afghanistan be Pakistan friendly — not a back door for Indian influence,” Hadley tells NRO. “But the best way to counter that risk is to get on good terms with the Afghan people and government. . . . Supporting the Haqqani network, which kills Afghans, is not a good way to befriend the Afghan people.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. bears some responsibility for the strained relationship. “We kind of abandoned the Pakistanis after cooperating with them to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan,” Hadley notes.

Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser to George H. W. Bush, agrees. “We’ve done some pretty egregious things in the past,” he says. “We sold Pakistan some F-16s and then we cut off military aid to both Paksitan and India and would not deliver the F-16s — nor did we give back the money to them.”

As long as the U.S. prosecutes the war in Afghanistan, however, it will need Pakistan’s cooperation. We have a history of working with countries that are less than allies, adds Richard Allen, national-security adviser to Pres. Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1982. Take Uzbekistan. “It’s a place that cannot be trusted, but where we’ve had facilities,” he notes.