U.S.-Pakistan Ties on the Brink
Image Credit: White House

U.S.-Pakistan Ties on the Brink


It has been just over a year since U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the Special Operations team of U.S. Navy Seals to conduct a unilateral operation against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But the operation, while a major victory for Obama in the so-called War on Terror, further complicated an already teetering relationship with Pakistan. True, the relationship was already in trouble. But a year on and it’s clear the bin Laden operation only added fuel to the fire.

Despite Islamabad’s persistent denials that bin Laden was in the country, he was found in a house in a garrison town. For Washington, the next puzzle to solve was the nature of Pakistan’s military “understanding” with bin Laden. Either the military was complicit in harboring the world’s most wanted terrorist, or it was somehow so incompetent that it couldn’t find him in the neighborhood of its training academy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ruled out complicity of top-level Pakistani military or government officials. But the raid also highlighted a sense of insecurity. According to a June 2011 Pew Research poll, 73 percent of Pakistanis had an unfavorable view of the United States, while a mere 14 percent favored bin Laden’s killing. One Pakistani army officer, Brig. Ali Khan, was later arrested for “subverting the government” by stating what he thought of Pakistan’s complicity and failure to resist the United States.

So where do ties stand now? On the one hand since joining hands in late 2001, Washington has been praising Islamabad for its commitment and sacrifice of more than 3,500 military personnel and as many as 35,000 Pakistani civilians. Last year, soon after the killing of bin Laden, Obama said: “We have been able to kill more terrorists on Pakistani soil than just about anyplace else. We could not have done that without Pakistani cooperation.” On the other hand, American officials have suspected and often accused the Pakistani military of supporting militant groups, particularly the Afghan Taliban. Although Washington and Islamabad have never been on the same page since 9/11, both sides have always made an effort to maintain their ties.

In the words of Washington-based Pakistani journalist Anwar Iqbal, “the year 2011 was like 2001 – a game changer,” for it exposed the fragile nature of the relationship. He compares the two years by stating “while the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacksbrought Pakistan back into the game, events happening in 2011 are pushing [the country] out.”

The relationship has seen ups and downs since the 9/11 attacks, but it has now fallen to such a low that both sides have almost given up hope of rebuilding close ties. Never smooth even at the best of times, this current phase can reasonably be described as the sourest ever.

In a November 2011 CBS poll, a majority of Americans said that Pakistan is either unfriendly (39 percent) or an enemy (24 percent), while 21 percent said that it is friendly but not an ally, and only 2 percent called it an ally. Similarly, the June 2011 Pew Research poll mentioned earlier showed that most Pakistanis see the United States as an enemy and a potential threat to their country’s security.

There will clearly, then, be ups and downs in this relationship for some time. Accusations and counter-accusations will be heard. As both countries are heading for the voting booths, finger-pointing may sharpen even further. Many political and religious parties in Pakistan may use the United States as a punch bag. Popular media in both countries may capture flashes of fiery speeches, thereby aggravating the situation. But this doesn’t mean that doomsday is just around the corner, for both sides will still try to preserve and rebuild the relationship.

The United States isn’t going to deliberately cut off ties with Pakistan, nor is Pakistan likely to permanently end all support. There is no better person to sum up the current phase of relations between the two countries than the U.S ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter: “If we are going to get out of what has been a very tough period, it is going to be because both countries decided they are going to look at something bigger than themselves.”

Imtiaz Ali is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). This article was adapted from a policy brief published by ISPU, “U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Facing a Critical Juncture.

May 11, 2012 at 09:01

Pakistan is a terror hub and almost all terror activities (directly or indirectly) can be established with someone from Pakistan. Pakistan is exporting terror into India as well as West and most importantly to its god father China as well (as stated by chinese its Foreign ministry as well).

After living under US life support system, Pakistan is egar to get under Chinese life support system i.e (weapon and money). But Chinese are clever and their only objective is is their own benefit. It can only help Pakistan is keeping good mood but in reality, Chinese are using Pakistan in every sense.
* Using them as Proxy against India (by supplying them nuclear bombs and missiles)
* Providing military hardware, aircraft (on loans) to promote its products in militarty hardware market.
* Chinese is using Pakistan for proving its Nuclear reator tech.
* They think that Pakistan is vital for safe access into Afganistan (under Taliban control) for the loot of its resources.

Reality is:

* Chinese has not given any vital financial support to Pakistan ever and will not do so either.
* They will never jeopradise its (getting better) good relationship with India for the sake of Pakistan advanterism.
* China is already facing after effects of its involvement into Kashmir issue for supporting Pakistan and giving stapled visa to Kashmiries (which they shamefully revoked later). India is now getting involved into South China sea as well as India hold the key for its Tibet problem and China know it has more to loose in supported a failed nation Pakistna then to offend India which can create problems for China and which is a big market of its goods too.

US is getting hostile towards Pakistan and China cannot get into between them at all. Thus Pakistan’s good humour to getting all kind of support by its all weather freind Chinese is just a humour with little ground realities.
Maximum what they can do its provide inferiour weapons on loans as well as black supportive statements by its foreign minitry.

May 11, 2012 at 03:15

That is very different thing to have deeper close relationship between Pakistan and China. it is not possible that the two countries will be allied towards communist aims.
1. China is a communist
2. Pakistan is an Islamic country that do not deal with godless country like Chinese communist.

About Osama Bin Ladden death near the Pakistan Military Academy a couple of blocks away, may be some of the Pakistani Arm-forces has a knowledge in sponsoring Osama but it is not representing the government of Pakistan, we can call it some rotten tomatoes in the basket…

The friendship cooperation of the United States and Pakistan people is a great sign of peaceful
environment towards world peace that is free from terrorism and communism…

May 10, 2012 at 08:38

All the terrorism happening in Pakistan today is done by RAW and CIA. Pakistan leadership must take a strong stand once for all and stop these evil forces in their grand desgin of breaking Pakistan into pieces.
India is jealous of Pakistan and its potential. And America is worries about China’s rise. The streategic friendship of Pakistan and China is the main worry for India and US.
Its must a matter of time when Pakistan and China will establish a new order in South Asia and the world as a whole.
It is funny to see Indian articals on this site as if India really a point of discussion for the people.

May 9, 2012 at 17:17

I look forward to the day when most Americans and Pakistanis will get their wish and see these two countries go their separate ways. Let the U.S. depart Afghanistan and leave the countries of that region to fend for themselves. The citizens of both countries beg for this and it is well past the time their leaders give it to them. We will see which country is better off.

May 9, 2012 at 14:13

If we are going to defeat the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 once and for all we need to be willing to accept reality. Adm. Mullen could not have said it more clearly…the Haqqani Network is a veritable arm of the ISI.

The other giant elephant in the room are the recent relevations in the Usama files that there were three individuals calling the shots within Al Qaeda. They were Bin Laden, Zawaharry, and Mulluh Omar. So how can we cling to the idea that the Taliban can be negotiated with while the CEO of the taliban is as deep into Al Qaeda as Bin Laden? We only telegraph our stupidity in trying to seperate these two groups. Unless you want to negotiate peace with A taliban foot soldier as if he can make a descision. It’s time to take a clue and stop negotiating with Al Qaeda. Tell them we will fight them for the next 1000 years til hell frezzes over.

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