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Is our relationship with Pakistan worth saving? [The conversation]

July 13, 2011 |  5:55 pm

Photo: People displaced after military launched offensive against Taliban militants live in temporary shelters near the Afghan border in Pakistan. Credit: Jabir Abdullah / EPA Washington is suspending more than one-third of its military aid to Pakistan -- $800 million -- in reaction to the nation's decreasing cooperation with the U.S. Relations with Pakistan have been particularly strained since the May 2 killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The Pakistani military helps the U.S. target Al Qaeda operatives along the border of Afghanistan but often ignores the Taliban militants who attack the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from Pakistan, The Times reported. Among other grievances the U.S. has with Pakistan’s cooperation, the country recently forced dozens of U.S. special operations trainers to leave after an incident in which CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him. 

Last month, the Times' editorial board warned of publicly reprimanding Pakistan, urging U.S. leaders to work things out with the country in private. The outrage in Islamabad toward the U.S. raid on Abbottobad wasn’t surprising, the board wrote, and Americans, in turn, are upset with the reaction of their "ally."

The board noted July 13 that although the suspension of aid is acceptable in light of Pakistan's actions, the U.S. should not let the relationship deteriorate any further. Pakistan is geographically important to the war in Afghanistan and provides intelligence about militant groups. The suspension of aid has also stirred up additional frustration in Pakistan regarding the killing of Bin Laden without the country’s permission.

We worry that the cutoff in aid was based less on a calculation of its effect on Pakistan than on the desire to publicly protest the country's truculence, partly in an effort to mollify congressional critics. Ideally, the suspension of aid will be short-lived while the relationship is mended. Pakistan can and should assist in that process, rather than falling back into the rote anti-Americanism and obstructionism that led to the Obama administration's decision to suspend aid in the first place.

Tony Karon of Time magazine  said the suspension of aid will likely widen the rift between the two countries. It's clear that the Pakistani public doesn't want its military to continue aligning with the U.S., he wrote, but public opinion is probably less of a factor in the country's actions than its own interests:  Pakistan views the war in Afghanistan as an extension of its conflict with India. In any case, both nations have already been preparing for the demise of the relationship, and the U.S. should expect Pakistan to stray away even further.

Even though public sentiment made it difficult for Pakistani leaders to support the U.S. war effort, the generals who have traditionally maintained close ties with the United States were willing to cooperate up to a point. But that cooperation has never crossed limits dictated by the generals' view of Pakistan's vital national interest. Pakistan had been willing to help the U.S. roll up hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives and to try and press the Taliban in Afghanistan to expel Osama bin Laden, but U.S. and Pakistani interests diverged when the U.S. sought to topple the Taliban regime -- which had been originally installed as a Pakistani proxy in Kabul, a hedge against the emergence of a pro-India regime on Pakistan's western flank. (The Northern Alliance, fierce rivals of the Taliban, had been strongly backed by India.)

The Washington Post's editorial board wrote in a similar vein: Withholding aid will only turn more Pakistanis against the U.S. The United States' public confrontation with Pakistan will put more strain on a relationship that is less of a partnership than it is a transaction, the board wrote, and it will weaken President Obama’s withdrawal plan from Afghanistan.

The deteriorating relationship, meanwhile, offers further cause for doubt about President Obama’s plan for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. If Pakistan’s government and army can’t be counted on to cooperate against the extremist forces based in the country, the United States will need a presence in Afghanistan, and a stable Afghan government, more than ever.

In his Vanity Fair piece, Christopher Hitchens wrote that Pakistan hates the U.S. because it is dependent on its aid, especially because the country’s  army and nuclear program, which are “parasitic on American indulgence and patronage,” are such a source of its pride. The U.S. is shamefully being manipulated by Pakistan, he wrote, and it puts American soldiers in danger.

But our blatant manipulation by Pakistan is the most diseased and rotten thing in which the United States has ever involved itself. And it is also, in the grossest way, a violation of our sovereignty. Pakistan routinely—by the dispatch of barely deniable death squads across its borders, to such locations as the Taj Hotel in Mumbai—injures the sovereignty of India as well as Afghanistan. But you might call that a traditional form of violation. In our case, Pakistan ingratiatingly and silkily invites young Americans to one of the vilest and most dangerous regions on earth, there to fight and die as its allies, all the while sharpening a blade for their backs. “The smiler with the knife under the cloak,” as Chaucer phrased it so frigidly.

 RELATED:

Pakistan in balance

Tone down Pakistan rhetoric 

U.S. justified in killing Osama Bin Laden 

U.S. foreign policy: In praise of nation-building

Explaining the core of our relationship with Pakistan [chart]

--Samantha Schaefer

Photo: People displaced after military launched offensive against Taliban militants live in temporary shelters near the Afghan border in Pakistan. Credit: Jabir Abdullah / EPA

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