Indian Decade

America’s Questionable Ally

News that Pakistan may have allowed China access to a downed US stealth helicopter is a troubling sign of ties.

Since the renewal of the US-Pakistan strategic relationship in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks on the United States almost a decade ago, US taxpayers have forked out close to $20 billion to Pakistan in the form of economic and military assistance. Such assistance has yielded some results. Pakistan has, under much pressure (and on occasion in keeping with its own interests) handed over several notorious al-Qaeda figures who were ensconced within the country. The most notable of them, of course, was a key operative, Abu Zubaydah.

But despite these acts of cooperation, it has become increasingly clear, especially in the past several years, that Pakistan is, at best, a very partial ally. For example, it has consistently refused to go after the Haqqani network, which has orchestrated attacks on US and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Worse still, it allows the terrorist network to maintain sanctuaries along Pakistan’s western borderlands. More to the point, it has evinced scant interest in shutting down the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group originally formed to wreak havoc in Indian-controlled Kashmir, the site of an Indo-Pakistani territorial dispute. Today the LeT has expanded the ambit of its operations and is known to have carried out attacks on ISAF.

Recent developments reinforce the view that Pakistan is a duplicitous ally. While unproven, it certainly stands to reason that the Pakistani security establishment was aware that Osama bin Laden was actually living under the noses of the Pakistan Army's premier military establishment in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

Now, to add insult to proverbial injury, press reports are revealing that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency offered access to the wreckage of the helicopter that had crashed during the operation to assassinate bin Laden to China. Despite loud denials from the highest quarters of the Pakistani military establishment, there’s every reason to believe that the Chinese military were given access to the wreck. The skin of the helicopter was coated with a material that enabled it to avoid Pakistani radars, and China has long been known for its interest in and capabilities of reverse engineering.

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Whether or not a close inspection of the damaged craft would enable their technicians to decipher the secret stealth technology remains an open question. However, the mere possibility that a putative ally of the United States, and the recipient of extraordinary US largesse, would do this underscores the tenuousness of the US-Pakistan strategic relationship.