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Agenda: U.S.-Pakistan After bin Laden

MIN READMay 6, 2011 | 18:53 GMT

The killing of Osama bin Laden has caused U.S.-Pakistani relations to fester. But, as analyst Reva Bhalla explains, the two countries need each other.

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

Colin: The summary execution of Osama bin Laden is an emotional triumph the United States and other countries touched by al Qaeda. Its manner will doubtless keep media and moralists busy for some time. But the hot debate now is the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, two countries that need each other. Colin: Welcome to Agenda. And joining me to discuss this is STRATFOR's senior geopolitical analyst, Reva Bhalla. Reva, Pakistan has very staunchly defended itself against U.S. criticism that it must have known about Osama's redoubt in Abbottabad. It said it did work in cooperation with U.S. intelligence, and of course it arrested the Bali bomber, Umar Patek in that very same city in January, and presumably interrogated him. Reva: Well, there's a question of when and how Pakistan shares that intelligence. Whether they're willingly sharing that intelligence or not, there are a number of ways of collecting intelligence and the United States has the technological capability, for example, to listen in on conversations, electronic intelligence and piece everything together and I think that is what really led to the pursuit of bin Laden in this case. Now the real concern for Pakistan is that the reality of high-value targets in Pakistan having been caught over the years and now a very dangerous precedent has been set by the United States for Pakistan and the Pakistanis are now worried that the United States could launch unilateral actions deep inside Pakistani borders and that of course is a huge concern domestically for Pakistan, which is exactly why we see the Pakistanis acting so defensive right now in that they have been sharing intelligence and that they will not tolerate further violations of national sovereignty. Colin: Now, interestingly, Salman Bashir, Pakistan's foreign minister, warned not just America against taking further direct action against targets; he talked about other countries. Presumably he had a neighbor in mind. Reva: Well Pakistan is particular pointing to India. India made a remark that indicated that perhaps India could perform similar operations against targets within Pakistani territory that threaten Indian interests. Now Indian special forces do not have perhaps the skill and room to maneuver that the United States has had in pursuing this latest operation but that certainly has Pakistan very alarmed and Pakistan is using that again for its domestic audience and saying that they are going to assert their national sovereignty, they're not going to tolerate the Indian threat and they're going to use that as leverage with United States, knowing that the United States very much needs Pakistan right now to shape an exit strategy from the war in Afghanistan. Colin: As you say, the United States needs Pakistan and of course Pakistan needs the billions of dollars coming from the American taxpayer. Despite Secretary Clinton's soothing words, today's relationship is not good. Can this be fixed, and how can it be fixed? Reva: Well even if you go back to the days of partition, since then Pakistan has been desperately looking for an external power patron like the United States to help it fend against its much larger and more powerful neighbor to the east, India. And over and over again, the Pakistanis have been left with a very deep sense of betrayal because the United States has to perform a very complex balancing act between India and Pakistan on the subcontinent that is never going to leave either one satisfied. In the current course of events, the Pakistanis know that the United States is very reliant on Islamabad for those vital intelligence links to the Taliban in particular to forge a political understanding that would allow the United States to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. At the same time, the Pakistanis understand that war in Afghanistan has caused them a lot of problems. The war has in effect produced an indigenous insurgency that the Pakistanis have been struggling with over the years. At the end of the day, the Pakistanis still want to hold onto that strategic relationship with the United States so we're going to see a lot of bargaining, where the Pakistanis are going to set the price for cooperation with Afghanistan. No matter how frustrated the United States becomes with Pakistani duplicity, the United States is going to have to face that reality and that's precisely why you see comments coming out of Secretary of State Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen today basically showing restraint and continued support for the Pakistani government despite the past few days of distrust. Colin: Is it too far-fetched to expect the United States to involve India in this, and try and bring these two south Asian giants together? Reva: Perhaps down the road, Colin but really not any time soon. I think the United States is going to be very conscious of Pakistan's fears of India and it's going to not want to do anything extraordinary in its relationship with India so as to not antagonize its relationship with Pakistan to a great degree. Really the focus right now is and has to be on Pakistan and you're going to see the United States turn to Pakistan again to forge that political understanding with the Taliban in Afghanistan. We see the Indians try to insert themselves in negotiations over Afghanistan, especially ones that have been mediated by Turkey, but time and time again they really haven't had much success and that's precisely a function of the United States' need to show the Pakistanis that they are serious about getting this exit strategy in Afghanistan and showing the Pakistanis that they're willing to recognize the Pakistanis sphere of influence in Afghanistan. To do so, at the end of the day it's really going to be a balancing act between Islamabad and New Delhi. Colin: Of course, one reason for the duplicity is that Pakistan has become reliant on jihadists and other extremists in their contest with India and Kashmir and elsewhere. Reva: Well it's a way to compensate for military weakness and Pakistan has developed this militant proxy project but it's also lost control of a large segment of it and that's precisely what's caused Pakistan so many problems over the years. India is in a very good position right now in seeing pressure build on the Pakistani government in the wake of this strike, just knowing that bin Laden was not caught up in the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was caught in a very scenic mountainous area of Pakistan, pretty deep within Pakistani territory, and so that alone allows India to then pressure the United States and rally the United States in pressuring Pakistan. But at the end of the day, again the United States is still going to need to rely on Pakistan to shape that exit strategy from Afghanistan and there's really not much that India's going to be able to do about that. Colin: Finally, I've not heard much about Pakistan's other big neighbor, China, in the context of all this. Reva: Well, the Chinese have actually been showing quite a bit of support for Pakistan in the wake of this strike and so one thing to keep in mind here is that the war in Afghanistan has kept the United States' attention absorbed for nearly a decade now. That's really worked largely in favor for a number of countries, including China that's been trying to chip away at U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. Not only China but Russia has made considerable progress in reasserting its influence in the former Soviet periphery. Also countries like Iran in the Islamic world itself is set to fill a very crucial power vacuum in Baghdad as U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq. And so I think you're going to start to see a lot of states start to recalculate as U.S. plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan start to accelerate. It's going to be very interesting to see how the surrounding countries react to the re-prioritization of U.S. foreign policy interests. Colin: Reva, we could talk for another hour on this, but we'll have to leave it there. Reva Bhalla ending this week's Agenda.
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