WASHINGTON, Sept 3—The next U.S. president must pursue a balanced strategy toward Pakistan that simultaneously strengthens the civilian government—the best hope for Pakistan’s long-term stability—without alienating the Pakistani army, warns a new policy brief by South Asia expert Ashley J. Tellis.

While strong U.S. support for Pakistan’s civilian government risks undermining military cooperation in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, recognizing the military as the preeminent center of power reinforces a status quo that allowed the Afghan–Pakistan border region to become a sanctuary for terrorist organizations. Managing this dilemma will be difficult but necessary for the success of U.S. engagement with Pakistan.

Recommendations for the next U.S. president:

On Governance:

  • Work consistently with the civilian government as the primary authority;
  • Resist interceding in party politics and instead support the strengthening of other political institutions such as the bureaucracy, judiciary, civil society, and assemblies; and
  • Increase U.S. assistance for Pakistan’s public education, the best weapon against religious radicalism.

On Military Cooperation:

  • Privately but clearly assert the need for the Pakistani army and the intelligence services to cut all ties with terrorist groups and offer increased defense cooperation in return;
  • Assist the Pakistani government in establishing a National Security Council to reconcile competing security interests;
  • Prioritize security assistance that emphasizes intelligence gathering and tactical mobility; and
  • Invest in initiatives to strengthen the local police—a critical and often overlooked component.

On Regional Relations:

  • Emphasize U.S. determination to maintain a long-term presence in Afghanistan; and
  • Encourage reconciliation and increased economic cooperation between India and Pakistan, a rivalry that threatens regional stability and economic development and overly empowers the Pakistani military.

Tellis concludes:

“Even if Islamabad were to overcome the immediate problems related to terrorism, the permanent transformation of Pakistan would be decades away. Consequently, the United States should be patient and satisfied in the interim merely if the trend lines in Pakistan pertaining to good governance, stable macroeconomic management, focused investments in human capital, responsible foreign and strategic policy, and temperate ideological orientations are all at least relatively positive.”


  • Direct link to the PDF: www.carnegieendowment.org/files/pb64_tellis_pakistan_final.pdf

  • Ashley J. Tellis specializes in international security, defense, and Asian strategic issues and recently helped the U.S. State Department negotiate the civil nuclear agreement with India. Previously he was a senior adviser to the U.S. ambassador to India and was a special assistant to the president and senior director for strategic planning and Southwest Asia in the NSC.

  • Next January, the new U.S. president will be confronted with the longest list of severe challenges any president has faced in decades. Prioritizing among them will be even more important than usual. In the fifth brief in this new series, “Foreign Policy for the Next President,” the Carnegie Endowment’s experts endeavor to do just that. They separate good ideas from dead ends and go beyond widely agreed goals to describe how to achieve them.

  • The Carnegie South Asia Program offers in-depth expertise on a range of issues relating to South Asia, including nonproliferation, international security, and political and economic development.

  • The Carnegie South Asia Program produces South Asian Perspectives, a monthly publication showcasing selected views and opinions from the South Asian media and policy circles, thus providing a forum for policy makers to hear voices from the region.

  • Press Contact: Trent Perrotto, 202/939-2372, tperrotto@ceip.org