Larry P. Goodson: Why the U.S. and Pakistan Must Draw Closer

Roundup: Media's Take

[Larry P. Goodson is the author of “Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban” and a forthcoming book about Pakistan.]

The recent Wikileaks exposure of over 90,000 classified US documents about the Afghan war revealed a Pakistan that has been both a major American ally and, at times, engaged in supporting the very Taliban who kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.

No wonder Washington’s and the American public’s frustration with Pakistan is growing. As public support for the war in Afghanistan flags, so, too, could America’s commitment to Pakistan.

That would be a big mistake. America has abandoned Pakistan before, after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, with regrettable results. It can’t afford to do so again – nuclear-armed Pakistan is simply too important and dangerous now.

Instead, both Washington and Islamabad must break the cynical, transactional bonds of their relationship, and work to form a partnership that supports their long-term, mutual interests. That won’t be easy. But it’s the only way the United States can protect its national security interests in Southwest Asia.
A most important – and least understood – country

America can begin by educating itself about a land of which it remains terribly ignorant.

With 177 million people, Pakistan is the sixth-most-populous country on the planet and it has a very young population, with 64 million people 14 years of age or younger.

It is also the only country that within the past 15 years has manufactured, tested, and proliferated nuclear weapons; had a military coup d’etat (and a subsequent peaceful return to power of civilian politicians); been forced to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid an economic collapse (2008); and become the global epicenter for Islamist militancy and extremism. Yet, few people in the West understand all of these problems, or Pakistan’s efforts to solve them.

Mostly, we see Pakistan as we always have, as an on-again-off again “ally” whose relationship with the United States is transactional – that is, we enlist them when we need help against the Soviet Union or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, for example, pay them generously while the relationship is on, and then drop the relationship when we do not need them.

Our fecklessness is due in part to the fact that we know virtually nothing about Pakistan, a place far from and alien to the US....

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