With Friends Like Pakistan, Who Needs Enemies?

Last Updated May 6, 2011 12:11 PM EDT

With Friends Like Pakistan Who Needs EnemiesDoes a red flag go up when something doesn't pass the smell test or you're being played by an ally? It should. It's a critical success skill for every leader or executive. And, while it may not be in your job description, it should be.

Somebody should break the news to our leaders in Washington.

U.S. officials say they have no indication "that there was official Pakistani knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts," according to the Wall Street Journal. Right, but the fact that they withheld U.S. intelligence and the planned raid on bin Laden from Pakistani leaders says far more about U.S. relations with its ally in the region.

Frienenemy might be a better description.

In an interview, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said that he found it "inconceivable" and "almost impossible" that Pakistani military or intelligence people didn't know about bin Laden's whereabouts in a military town with a high concentration of military and intelligence officers.

Sure, Pakistan has been a useful ally in some respects, but spoon-feeding intelligence information with one hand while aiding U.S. enemies with the other isn't my definition of ally. What they're doing is keeping both balls up in the air, maintaining long-standing support for Al Qaeda and other militant groups while keeping billions in aid coming from the U.S.

The worst thing about it is that U.S. officials know all this but consider the relationship with Pakistan to be "too big to fail." In other words, being extorted for billions and played for a sucker so we can take advantage of Pakistan's strategic location and keep its nuclear arsenal out of the wrong hands is the best our negotiators could come up with.

With all due respect, I think that's sad. Look, I'm not saying foreign policy or diplomatic strategy is easy. It's not. But it's not uncommon for companies to find themselves in analogous situations. And while they often seem like catch-22s, they're not. Carrot and stick negotiating tactics can be quite effective in situations like that.

I'm not saying that you should swagger into negotiations with guns blazing and proclaim, "If we find out you've been holding out on us or trace any nukes back to you, you'll be sorry." That's not how savvy negotiators do it. But they do know how to subtly get across that the stick is there and their opponent is taking a big risk if they don't play nice.

The key to the effectiveness of that approach is that the opponent has to believe that the implicit threat is real. Since your known track record in similar situations will either substantiate or deflate the threat, companies and governments must employ this strategy consistently. That could be the rub in the situation with Pakistan.

Bottom line: Everything looks 20-20 in hindsight, but I think there's a valuable takeaway for leaders, executives, managers, and those climbing the ladder to get there. Trust your instincts, especially when it comes to dysfunctional relationships between people, companies, or even countries.

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