The US, Pakistan And Leverage

I see this kind of bizarre sentiment expressed by a lot of people over the last while, that the United States has somehow gained a measure of “leverage” over Pakistan as a result of the circumstances surrounding the death of Osama Bin Laden.

I can’t really fathom it.

The argument seems to go that because Bin Laden was found hiding on Pakistani soil and within shouting distance of a military base, that Pakistan must, and will, shoulder much of the responsibility for his continued survival, making is subservient to the United States.

This just isn’t going to happen.

Leaving aside some of the realities on the ground in Pakistan – that the government and the armed forces, especially the intelligence services, frequently act totally independent of the other, and that the recognised authorities aren’t in full control of their territory – the idea that the United States can hold Bin Laden’s death over Pakistan like some kind of trump card is ludicrous.

The US could try and play that card but what happens if Pakistan just shrugs and says “what else you got?”

Because they could. The US will be unable to beat the Taliban without Pakistani assistance (and might not even be able to do with their assistance). Will the US continue to use drone strikes in Pakistan if that nation decides it no longer wants to play ball?

A piece of “leverage” like the Bin Laden thing is only as good as the force behind it and the United States has little in this regard. It isn’t going to invade Pakistan anytime soon if Pakistan doesn’t toe the line after all, hence the soft power option of using aid money as the incentive. The United States has neither the available soldiers, financial support or will to attack and occupy another Islamic country.

Oh, and there is the trifling matter of Pakistan’s own, very real, trump card: the nuclear weapons they can fire at India if they feel so inclined. Now that’s leverage.

So, there is the aid. The United States could cut or end their substantial aid package to Pakistan (in so doing, dealing the Afghan effort a big, if not fatal, blow).

What does Pakistan do then? Is there anywhere else they could turn to for aid?

Of course there is. China will always be there for the nations that the US won’t lower itself to treat with and they have as much money to throw around. I’m sure they would love to establish a more solid presence in the region in the form of being the Pakistani patron and wouldn’t that just be a bad result for the US? And there’s the rest of the BRIC nations, or Russia or any number of counties that might be willing to help Pakistan out.

So, no, the US has no leverage over Pakistan, at least not any that won’t result in a measure of self-harm. The US has a choice, but it is not much different from the one it has faced for a while now: keep up the fight in Afghanistan and keep Pakistan onside, or cut their losses and pull out, from both nations.

But they will not get Pakistan to do anything it doesn’t want to. Bin Laden hid in the country for years, what makes you think Pakistan is any kind of rollover for the west?

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency (COIN), Middle East, Politics, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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