Bureaucratic Politics in Pakistan

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress on September 22 that Pakistani intelligence has been cooperating with terrorists in attacks on U.S. targets.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has become increasingly strained in recent weeks.  On September 22 Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of aiding the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network in its September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.  Mullen went so far as to call the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of the ISI.  Pakistan’s foreign minister fired back that the U.S. would “lose an ally” if such talk continued.  Then, three days ago the New York Times published a report on a 2007 attack in which Pakistani soldiers ambushed U.S. soldiers who were trying to settle a border dispute along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Pakistan’s seemingly incoherent “double-dealing” behavior (cooperation with the U.S. in some areas while undermining its interests in others) can be traced to the complexity of its domestic political situation.  As the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole writes in his blog, “Pakistan is a complex place, and its civilian politicians have a different agenda than its conventional army, which in turn has a different agenda from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).  Even within the ISI, there appear to be secret rogue cells.  Some ISI officers appear to be hooked up with the Haqqani Network and with terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-i Tayyiba.  But Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting the more militant Afghan and Pakistani-Pashtun fundamentalist groups, and it is not a task the US could take on by itself.”

In short, there is a struggle for power among military, intelligence, and civilian political leaders in Pakistan, and the result is a series of foreign policy actions that are not coherently and centrally coordinated.  This power struggle fits the bureaucratic politics model as famously articulated by Graham Allison in his classic book Essence of Decision.  Allison argues that the rational actor model, which assumes states are unitary actors rationally pursuing the national interest, is oversimplified and misleading.  He contends that states frequently act in incoherent ways that can only be explained by looking at the competing interests and ugly compromises that occur among key governmental players.  For example, the Pakistani military’s main goal may not be advancing some overarching conception of the national interest, but rather promoting its own organizational interests.  The New York Times article on the 2007 attack quotes an American military officer as saying that Pakistan’s military “often seemed to retaliate for losses they had suffered in an accidental attack by United States forces with a deliberate assault on American troops, most probably to maintain morale among their own troops or to make a point to the Americans that they could not be pushed around.”

What are the implications of the bureaucratic politics model for the future of the U.S.-Pakistani alliance?  Can you identify bureaucratic politics shaping actions on the American side as well?  (Think about the interests of the U.S. military, the State Department, the intelligence community, etc.).

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