Fareed Zakaria: How the U.S. Should Approach Pakistan

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The discord underlying Washington’s troubled relationship with Islamabad reared its head again this week following the NATO bombing of Pakistani positions along the Afghan border. 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a strike for which NATO has expressed regret, but reports suggest NATO and Afghan forces had taken fire from Pakistani troops (or perhaps from Taliban-linked fighters accommodated by the Pakistani troops) and retaliated only after extreme duress. Pakistan has made its anger known to the U.S. and its allies and declared that things will no long be “business as usual” between Islamabad and Washington. (Read the Pakistani version of events, chronicled by TIME’s Islamabad contributor Omar Waraich, here.)

In his column in this week’s issue of the magazine, Fareed Zakaria takes a long look at Pakistan’s Janus-faced role in the war against militant extremism in South Asia and concludes, as has been long discussed, that the problem lies in the Pakistani military’s historic dominance over the country’s politics. It’s an institution the U.S. has supported over the decades and leaned on for tactical support during the Cold War and now the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. It’s time, Zakaria says, for Washington to shift away from its close, schizophrenic relationship with the military — an organization whose raison d’etre sees it attempting to clandestinely destabilize neighbors India and Afghanistan — and pivot towards Pakistan’s weak civilian democracy. That’s easier said than done. An excerpt after the jump.

There is a fundamental tension in U.S. policy toward Pakistan. We want a more democratic country, but we also want a government that can deliver cooperation on the ground. In practice, we always choose the latter, which means we cozy up to the military and overlook its destruction of democracy. The only way to get real ­cooperation is by helping Pakistan move from being a military state to being a more normal country. If Washington continues to bolster Pakistan’s de facto regime, we will get a dysfunctional nation where the public—fed propaganda by the military ­establishment—vents its anger at Washington.