U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Looking Ahead in South Asia

Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen Former Brookings Expert

December 11, 2009

In a December 11 address to a visiting team from the U.S. Marine Corps War College, Stephen Cohen examined the future of South Asia in the larger context of violent Islamic extremism. Cohen outlined a range of policies that America might consider in dealing with Pakistan – a central player in the Afghan war – and in Pakistan’s longstanding conflict with neighboring India.

Let me welcome you to the Brookings Institution, and to the 21st Century Defense Initiative, our group that studies military and security affairs, and in my case, India and Pakistan.

I want to do three things today:

  • Provide some context of the larger struggle against violent Islamic extremism;
  • Conduct a very brief thought experiment—looking ahead a few years in South Asia;
  • List the range of policies that we might consider regarding Pakistan, including some that we certainly should consider and promptly reject.

I: The view from 30,000 feet

Let me make two brief points regarding what some people call the “long war,” others call a clash of civilizations, and still others call a holy war.

From a U.S. perspective: all the advantages are on our side. This is especially true when you compare the Cold War with the present rise of violent, militant Islam. In the Cold War, there was an immediate and existential threat to the entire United States and all of its allies, both in terms of a totalitarian ideology and also in terms of the ability to kill millions of Americans immediately and destroy the United States as a coherent society. Herman Kahn went through the scenarios better than anyone else.

That is now literally history. We got through it because of the inherent weakness of communist ideology, even in those countries where it might have had some revolutionary appeal—where there was extreme inequality and the absence of justice. Communism created what Milovan Djilas called a “new class,” a privileged class, inequality continued, and there was no justice. Fortunately, North Korea still functions as a living example of what we missed. It has become the butt of jokes; not a serious threat except for its ability to incinerate a city or two – hardly a laughing matter.

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