Pakistanis are universally enraged by U.S. missile strikes and other military operations in Pashtun areas of Pakistan. These tactical measures only alienate the same Pashtun voters who recently threw parties allied to the Taliban out of office. While the civilian government’s policy of negotiating with Islamist militants has so far yielded little progress, the United States should not unequivocally reject this approach. Both Britain and China have supported the concept of negotiations in areas where armed Islamists hold sway.
Regional relationships are becoming increasingly important to Pakistan, particularly its ties with China and India. In some cases and on some issues, Pakistan’s neighbors could help the United States achieve important policy objectives. “Pakistan is the only country we term as an ‘all-weather friendship,’” we were told by Jiang Yili, who is counselor at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad. The co-translator of a best-selling Chinese edition of Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, Daughter of the East, Jiang is also the wife of the Chinese ambassador.
Curiously, the Chinese diplomat did not express strong concern about terrorism in Pakistan, even though Islamist militants killed several Chinese technicians in Baluchistan and in the North-West Frontier Province in 2006 and 2007. She did acknowledge that Uighur Muslim rebels from western China have taken refuge in Pakistan and that Chinese workers on hydro-electric projects in Swat had been withdrawn because of security concerns.
U.S. policymakers could leverage Pakistan’s close relationship with China to advance our national security goals. According to Yili, Chinese and American diplomats rarely consult each other in Islamabad outside of their meetings at national day parties and other functions. The United States could learn from China how China gets results from Pakistan.