Agenda: With George Friedman on Pakistan

MIN READMay 13, 2011 | 18:03 GMT

Stratfor CEO George Friedman discusses the mutually dependent relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: With Taliban in Pakistan claiming responsibility for an attack that killed 80 people in a paramilitary academy in the country's northwest frontier, the Pakistan question looms large in Washington. But despite the rhetoric from both the United States and Islamabad, it is likely to be business as usual. Colin: Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman. George: Well first let's frame the basic picture. The Pakistanis need the United States to counterbalance India. The United States needs Pakistan to find some sort of solution in Afghanistan. This is not a relationship made of love it is a relationship made of interests. The United States, if it did not have the cooperation of Pakistan, would simply not be able to wage the war. First the supply line from Karachi to the Khyber Pass would be closed. We could find an alternative working with Russia perhaps, but that would cause a problem. There is another alternative on the Caspian but that won't solve the entire problem. If Pakistan were to turn on us, our position in Afghanistan would become difficult. Plus whatever limited help the Pakistanis are giving the United States in dealing with Taliban strongholds in Pakistan itself would disappear. First much of the wild talk about punishing Pakistan and so on fails to take into account the American position in Afghanistan. And secondly it fails to take into account that Pakistan is a country of 180 million people, not a country that you can easily punish. At the same time, the Pakistanis badly need the United States to balance India because the Pakistanis by themselves would be no match for the Indians, would be threatened and overwhelmed, and therefore they can't simply reject American relations. For the past 10 years since 9/11, there's been terrific tension between the two countries. The United States has wanted the Pakistanis to do things in support of the United States that the Pakistanis felt would lead to a possible breakdown in Pakistan because of civil tension between the various factions. A fine line has been walked. With the capture of Osama bin Laden and the assertion that the Pakistanis harbored him or didn't effectively act against him, there is the temptation, particularly on the part of the Americans, to break with the Pakistanis. The problem is that's not an option for the Americans so long as they remain in Afghanistan. They need whatever level of cooperation the Pakistanis are going to give and that's really where it stands in the midst of all of the hubbub and charges and senators demanding investigations and cutoffs of aid. We simply need the supply lines. We need what ever support the Pakistanis are prepared to give or we're going to have to think about how to leave Afghanistan. Colin: Is it your view as some suggest that the recent events in the United States can now leave Afghanistan earlier? George: Well it depends very much on how the United States positions the death of Osama bin Laden. If it makes the claim that with this death of Osama bin Laden the threat of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan has diminished to the point that mission has been accomplished, then it can make the claim that it has to leave. And the problem there is of course that the threat of terrorism isn't so much emanating from Afghanistan; it's emanating from Pakistan. The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is only minimally affecting the struggle against terrorism. Certainly if the United States left, al Qaeda would move back into Afghanistan but by definition al Qaeda is going to be operating where ever the United States isn't. This is a guerrilla war on a global level. In that sense guerrillas constantly decline combat where the conventional force is overwhelming and move to areas where the conventional force is weak. On a global level where ever the United States isn't, is where al Qaeda is going to be. The United States can't be in Pakistan. The ability to overwhelm Pakistan, it is an enormous country in terms of population - it is just beyond reach of the number of troops in Americans have - and therefore the argument that Osama bin Laden's death changes something dramatically is probably dubious but as a political claim may be persuasive and may allow the administration to begin to consider withdrawal with a claim of some sort of victory. Colin: George we've seen a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Afghanistan. Is that relevant to all this or is it a sideshow? George: It's not a sideshow but it's not really relevant because in the end, India is geopolitically not in the position to insert large numbers of troops in Afghanistan and therefore can't support the Karzai government. The map simply makes it almost impossible for the Indians to do that and so the Indians are fishing in muddy waters. They're trying to shore up Karzai's spirits. They're trying to signal the Pakistanis. But again, all of this diplomatic signaling back and forth ignores geopolitical reality. The Indians cannot insert and support a significant military force in Afghanistan. They're not an alternative to the United States. Their commitment to Afghanistan really doesn't make that much of a difference. Sometimes diplomatic gestures mean something and sometimes they simply don't. In this particular case I think the Indians would like it to be able to mean something but it doesn't. Colin: George thanks very much indeed. George Friedman there, ending Agenda. I'm Colin Chapman. Thanks for your time today.
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