Albeit subtly, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and President Trump are employing a good cop-bad cop routine to persuade Pakistan to stop supporting terrorist groups.
This was evidenced last Friday, when Mattis told reporters the U.S. and Pakistan have had “strong disagreements on some issues, and we’re working on those. The specific individual things we’re doing are best handled in private, to ensure that we can be most productive … I think many of you are aware that Pakistan has lost more troops total than all of NATO [and the] coalition combined in the fight against [terrorists].”
While Mattis rightly pointed out the Pakistani Army’s casualty rates (and is aware of the contribution of Pakistani patriots like Raheel Sharif and Chaudhry Aslam Khan), his nuance on “in private” conversations also represents a polarized flip on President Trump’s Twitter-fury approach.
And considering how Mattis is conducting his private strategy, it’s clear that this is a clever good cop-bad cop routine.
As Jamie McIntyre reported on Tuesday, “Pentagon sources say in private meetings with Pakistani military leaders, [Mattis has] produced files full of evidence that Pakistan was supporting the Haqqani terror network, and demanded changes.”
That specific focus on the Haqqanis is the right approach. As I outlined following the recent release of American hostages Caitlin Coleman and her family, the Haqqani network is employed, supported, and sometimes directed by powerful elements of the Pakistani security establishment. These elements have used the Haqqanis to kidnap and kill Americans and to facilitate broader Islamic terrorist activities in the region. The Haqqanis must be crushed.
Yet, Mattis’ nuanced stance is useful in that some of the top officers in Pakistan’s security establishment are more sympathetic to U.S. counterterrorism concerns than others. This includes the head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, Naveed Mukhtar, and Army chief Qamar Bajwa. A graduate of the U.S. Army war college, Mukhtar has expressed realistic rather than Pakistani-imperialist attitudes on Afghanistan, and Bajwa is known for his intellectual and professional ethos.
Working with these officials behind the scenes and persuading them that U.S. aid can quickly recommence with progress on U.S. concerns, Mattis’ good cop routine has a strong chance of success. Crucially, it also reduces the risk of inflaming Pakistani political populism in the context of that nation’s upcoming elections.
Yet, for all his nuance, Mattis also wields a secret weapon. “If you don’t work with me,” he’s likely telling Pakistani leaders, “you’ll have to deal with my boss’ unpredictable rage.” And for reasons of hard cash as much as anything else, the Pakistanis don’t want to infuriate Trump any more than they already have.