Pakistan now has two options. It can become less cooperative with the U.S. counterterrorism campaign and in Afghanistan, and try to weaken the CIA in Pakistan. This would put Islamabad on a collision course with Washington; if the Davis affair is any indication, the resulting tension between the intelligence agencies will make it difficult for the nations to conduct business as usual. (Islamabad will also, of course, have plenty to juggle if another terrorist attack takes place soon in the West and is traced back to Pakistan.)
Or, Pakistan can conclude that its borders are too porous to Western intelligence for the likes of al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network and Lashkar-i-Taiba to safely organize, recruit and carry out attacks. Since Islamabad can no longer protect its jihadist and Taliban assets, it should reassess its strategic calculus and abandon a foreign policy that relies on jihadist adventurism.
If history is any guide, Pakistan cannot be relied upon to make the right decision. In the coming weeks, Islamabad is likely to hunker down in reaction to bin Laden’s death and then go after the CIA’s eyes and ears around Pakistan. But there is a window of opportunity for the West to nudge Pakistan to reevaluate its foreign policy. However narrow the opening, it is worth exploring.
Doing so would require the United States to react to this latest Pakistani transgression in a new way. Washington should not credit Pakistan for helping with hunting down bin Laden and then turn around and freeze relations and scale back assistance. Rather, Washington should continue its assistance programs and bilateral engagement to show Pakistan a path to a normal, long-run relationship with the United States. Meanwhile, it should engage Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership at the highest levels to push for a change in foreign policy. America’s confidence and Pakistan’s anxiety and vulnerability at this critical moment create an opening to push U.S.-Pakistan relations in a new direction.
The writer is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He served as senior adviser to the State Department’s special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2009 to 2011.