Americans rightly recount that neither sums of money, conventional weapons systems such as F-16s, or support to civilian institutions has paid the kind of dividends that US legislators and administration officials wanted. With the US economy in a shambolic state, unemployment high and increasing demands for increased development at home, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to justify engaging Pakistan through the checkbook.

Maybe it’s time to try a different approach that is not based upon financial, but political, allurements.

Dusting Off A Crazed Idea

One thing is certain: the past US approach to Pakistan has failed. It has failed because the United States has tended to be willing to write checks and provide military assistance, but it has always swerved when it came to time employing negative inducements. This has allowed Pakistan to marginally satisfy Washington while generally reaping the benefits while delivering the minimum necessary to sustain the charade.

However, what needs to be said, is that whatever the United States offered Pakistan was never enough to persuade Pakistan to give up the only assets it believes works for it: jihad under a the security of its ever-expanding nuclear umbrella. To influence Pakistan’s cost-benefit calculus, Washington will have to rethink how it does business with Islamabad. Doing so will require Pakistan and the United States to admit and say things that are difficult if not outright gut-churning. For its part, the United States will have to consider putting forward political inducements that are meaningful to Pakistan. After all, these inducements will have to be adequately beneficial that the state could even consider-for a moment-giving up its nuclearised jihad. This is no easy proposition.

After all, sane people many demand that it is outrageous to reward a state for giving up what no responsible state should do in the first place: seek to compel a change in the status quo through terror proxies and nuclear extortion. True. But this also ignores the simple fact that what the United States and its allies have done is viewed in similar light in other countries. After all, how many countries applauded the US and its coalition of the billing to invade Iraq to overthrow a regime that did not actually threaten the United States in any meaningful way? Not many.

Pakistan, for its part, will have to own up to what the world already knows: it continues to sponsor a host of Islamist militants who conduct terror in the region under the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to get its way in Afghanistan and India. Pakistan’s demurrals on this point are ludicrous. Should Pakistan be willing to give up the only assets it has, the United States should be ready to reward Pakistan handsomely even though doing so may seem odious to many.

Rewarding Nuclear Blackmail?

This author opposed the 2005 US-India nuclear deal for several reasons.

First, I thought it hurt the goal of nuclear nonproliferation to let India into the nuclear club while elsewhere trying to tighten the noose to keep Iran out.

Second, while I support strong US-India ties, I was not persuaded that the deal would open the door to deeper US and Indian strategic cooperation and American weapons sales to India as promised.

Third, I was annoyed at the misrepresentations made by its proponents during numerous congressional hearings on the subject.

Fourth, I understood that it would give Pakistan wiggle room regarding its nuclear aspirations.

Finally, I anticipated that should Pakistan fail to secure such a deal, it would likely work to sabotage everything the United States was trying to do in Afghanistan. After all, Pakistan sees itself as paying a heavy price for supporting the US, while India reaps rewards without such cost.

If the United States wants one last chance of salvaging a relationship with Pakistan, it should put on the table a conditions-based, civilian-nuclear deal. Whereas the deal with India was motivated by a desire to work with India, in the region and beyond, to manage China’s rise, this deal with Pakistan would be aimed to slowly wean it from its jihad addiction and work with Pakistan to secure the command and control and ultimate safety of its expanding nuclear weapons. It should be recalled that the India-US nuclear deal remains a work in progress, even though the deal was announced in 2005-some eight years ago.

Pakistan’s leaders note, in private, that they really do not need the United States because they have China. That claim is hollow. China only provides loans and engages Pakistan on extractive terms to service its own goals. Its weapons systems are of uneven quality and generally are no match for American systems.  Worse yet, China cannot confer legitimacy to Pakistan’s nuclear programme, as the United States can as it did for India.

Putting this on the negotiating table with Pakistan should have a clarifying effect. If Pakistan is unwilling to give up its jihadi assets for this enormous offer, the United States will understand that there is literally nothing in its tool box that can help coax Pakistan off the trajectory of a rogue state that terrorizes its citizens at home and others abroad.

“Scrotal Fortitude”

To increase the likelihood that Pakistan would take such a deal, Pakistan should also be made to understand that while the United States is willing to reward Pakistan, it is also prepared to come down upon Pakistan with the full intent of containing the threats it poses. This list of negative inducements should be specific and targeted. There is little doubt that policymakers in Congress and the Executive Branch alike will have to garner the requisite scrotal fortitude to make good on these threats. Alas, the US track record on this front is abysmal.

These negative inducements should include declaring American support to render the Line of Control cutting through those portions of Kashmir administered by Pakistan and India as the international border. This will not be easy and will require action at the United Nations.

The United States should also be prepared to let Pakistan fail.

Pakistan has been able to monetize its insecurity by extorting funds from the international community based upon the argument that it “is too dangerous to fail.” Thus Pakistan follows a familiar routine. It negotiates a deal with the International Monetary Fund, accepts several tranches of payments while failing to follow through on commitments to expand the tax net among others.

It then withdraws from the commitment altogether until it must again go back to the IMF. The IMF, under US pressure, relents and issues forth a new deal and new tranches of funds. The United States should be unwilling to continue subsidizing Pakistan with monies paid by global tax-paying citizens while Pakistan’s elites abscond. The IMF should not cut Pakistan another check until Islamabad makes good on old promises it has failed repeatedly to keep. The United States should also move against individuals and organisations that sponsor terrorism.

Pakistan military, intelligence and civilian personnel have long been implicated in helping Pakistan’s terrorist denizens do their work at home and abroad. Those individuals should be brought to justice. The United States, working with the international community, should work to deprive these individuals ability to move internationally, to seize their funds, and even try them in courts of law, in absentia if need be. While the United States has few means to stop terrorists associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba from leaving Pakistan, the organisation has a growing presence in Europe and Asia. Military, intelligence and law enforcement personnel should aggressively target this organisation’s infrastructure as well as that of related organisations beyond Pakistan’s borders.

Finally, the United States must make it very clear that Pakistan will be held accountable for any Pakistani fissile material, nuclear weapons or technology that falls into the hands of non-state actors. Pakistani officials continually opine that it is a responsible nuclear weapons state. The United States and its partners should treat it as such.

A Hard Pill to Swallow

There is no doubt that these suggestions may seem unpalatable.

However, what is clear is that Pakistan is on a seemingly irreversible course that will only make it more dangerous to itself, to its neighbors and the world at large. The US traditional approach of “muddling through” its management of Pakistan will not yield positive dividends forever. It is time for a “big idea” for Pakistan.

This will take political will. It will require intelligence resources to monitor progress - or lack thereof - made by Pakistan in rolling back its nuclearised jihad . It will require a consensus inside the US government that it makes more sense to reward Pakistan for giving up those very tools of statecraft that responsible states are loathe to develop in the first instance.

Inside Pakistan, such a profound policy shift will require its strategic elites to imagine a different future for their nation. Pakistanis are wary and distrustful of the Americans. Giving up nuclear-backed jihadi assets is a big “ask.” Consensus to do so may be slow in the coming, and may never come at all.

But Americans should not presume that all Pakistanis want this dystopic future. Washington should find and reach out to those Pakistanis who understand the growing cost of past and current policies. Those folks, alas, are Pakistan’s  lone hope and prospects for change.