Draft report prepared

Smaller Role Urged For DOD's Top Brass In U.S.-Pakistan Relations

By / August 22, 2012

The Defense Department's top brass should play a much smaller role in U.S. relations with Pakistan as American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, according to a draft report prepared for the State Department.

The report by the International Security Advisory Board argues civilian-to-civilian contacts should be the principal and most visible conduit for U.S.-Pakistan relations. For the United States, in most cases, that means the State Department and embassy team, but at times it might include the president, the vice president and the White House's national security adviser, the panel writes.

"With the impending end of the NATO combat role in Afghanistan, the highly visible role played by the chairman of the [Joint Chiefs of Staff] and the [U.S. Central Command] commander in U.S.-Pakistan relations should sharply decrease," states the report, which was drafted in May based on a study led by former diplomat Robert Gallucci and overseen by former Defense Secretary William Perry. Inside the Pentagon obtained a copy of the draft report.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has highlighted the role top U.S. military leaders play in U.S-Pakistan talks. Last week, during a briefing with reporters, Panetta said that Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, meets with Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on a regular basis. He also noted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis would also be meeting with Kayani.

"The one area that we are making particular progress with is trying to develop better cross-border operations so that both the Pakistanis and the United States and Afghans are working on those border areas to identify terrorists who are creating havoc there," Panetta said.

Following Mattis' Aug. 17 talks with Kayani and retired Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, Pakistan's defense secretary, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad released a statement touting the "successful meetings" on common security issues, to include militant network activities and ways to boost cross-border cooperation. The meetings "reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Pakistani security relationship -- not only to ongoing operations in Afghanistan but also to regional stability," the embassy noted.

Pakistan is a "failed state" that thwarts U.S. aims in the region and sponsors terrorism in Afghanistan, India and the disputed Kashmir province, but it has also accepted U.S. drone bases on its territory and provided logistical access to Afghanistan, the report notes. The study stresses counterterrorism and security concerns remain the top U.S. priorities in the relationship, calls for more U.S. military aid to Pakistan to support disaster-relief and proposes broad NATO-Pakistan military-to-military exchanges.

The assessment warns that U.S. policies that focus primarily on the Afghanistan-Pakistan axis are doomed. "Too many other countries in the Middle East, Central and South Asia, East Asia and Europe have a stake in Pakistan," the panel writes. "They see that nation not as inseparably linked with the American exit from Afghanistan, but as a key player in the Muslim world and in the political dynamics of a large part of Asia."

"We're never going to have stability, real stability in that region without India and Pakistan and, for that matter, Afghanistan working together to try to deal with common threats, particularly those threats from terrorism," Panetta said last week. Confronting terrorism in Pakistan is particularly important because the country is a nuclear power, he noted.

"And the great danger we've always feared is that, you know, if terrorism is not controlled in their country, that those nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands," Panetta said.

For too long, the United States has treated Pakistan as the object of, rather than the subject of, U.S. policy, the report states. "We knew what we wanted Pakistan to do, and we were willing to give or withhold favors to have our way," the panel writes. "That continues to be the mindset of too much of American diplomacy vis-à-vis Pakistan. It will no longer work. To the extent it had value, it has outlived its usefulness." Going forward, U.S. and Pakistani officials must find ways to agree to disagree when necessary while still working together on long-term shared interests as part of the broader relationship, the study states.

According to the assessment, potential areas of overlap in the national goals of Pakistan and the United States include supporting Pakistan's territorial integrity and national unity; working for an outcome in Afghanistan that does not run counter to U.S. and Pakistani aims; building bilateral ties that support Pakistan's aspirations for developing its economy and exercising sovereignty over all of its internationally recognized territory; stopping the use of terrorism as a tool of national policy; boosting the safety and security of nuclear arms and materials; reducing the threat of nuclear war; and improving mutual understanding.

Just as the United States helped "a technically capable, but bloated, military and scientific establishment" in Russia "find its way" following the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, American officials can assist Pakistan, the report argues. -- Christopher J. Castelli