Should the U.S. Threaten to Invade Pakistan?

A former ambassador makes a radical suggestion

This article is from the archive of our partner .

It's no secret that President Barack Obama has struggled to bring about Pakistan, which has complicated U.S. efforts in Afghanistan by sabotaging peace talks and sponsoring some of the war's most violent insurgent groups. But even with the perilous low in U.S.-Pakistan relations, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has made a controversial and somewhat extreme suggestion in the New York Times. In the course of an otherwise conventional column on how the U.S. can guide Pakistani behavior, Khalilzad floats the possibility of a U.S. invasion. "The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent." Here's more of Khalilzad's column and the response.

  • The Case for Considering Invasion  Khalilzad writes in the New York Times, "The U.S. has tried to soften Pakistan’s support of extremist militants through enhanced engagement as well as humanitarian, economic and military assistance; indeed, Congress last year approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid, and among the options being discussed by American and Pakistani officials this week is a security pact that would mean billions of dollars more. But such efforts have led to only the most incremental shifts in Pakistan’s policy. To induce quicker and more significant changes, Washington must offer Islamabad a stark choice between positive incentives and negative consequences. ... Arguments that [invading] would cause Pakistan to disintegrate are overstated. Pakistan’s institutions, particularly the country’s security organs, are sufficiently strong to preclude such an outcome." Khalilzad even suggests how the U.S. can prepare for the blowback to invasion by re-routing supply routes through Central Asia.
  • Invading Not a Viable Option or Sincere Threat  Commentary's Max Boot sighs, "That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out 'insurgent havens' without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda."
  • Forcing Pakistan to Act Against Its Interests Doesn't Work  Registan's Joshua Foust explains, "[Khalilzad's] ideas for 'tweaking' the current state of affairs–more unilateral strikes on Pakistani territory, a general tone of 'forcing' Pakistan to do something that is clearly against its interests, and so on–simply don’t make any sense. The last nine years of U.S.-Pakistani relations have been variations on that same theme: forcing Pakistan to do things it is not otherwise inclined to do. The result is a strained relationship and deep, perhaps permanent opposition to the U.S. in domestic Pakistani politics. We are worse off because of it."
  • Changing the U.S.-Pakistan Relationship Too Suddenly Is Risky  The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Ashley Tellis warns, "The most important problem is that suddenly challenging Pakistan after a decade of acquiescence to its mendacity is tantamount to abruptly changing the rules of a game that Washington and Islamabad have gotten used to: It could result in even greater Pakistani obduracy and further support for its jihadi proxies. Although that is certainly an unpalatable possibility, the bitter truth is that the current state of affairs -- in which Washington indefinitely subsidizes Islamabad's sustenance of U.S. enemies -- poses far greater dangers to the United States. The Obama administration must make the difficult choice now and show Islamabad that the rules of the game have changed."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.