US-Pakistani relations: Mutual BS*

May 24, 2011
-A +A

A Pakistani writer looks at the ties between the two countries and decides to call it what it is.

Amid reported tensions between Washington and Islamabad since the Osama bin Laden raid and killing, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said in a statement this week: “Pakistan-U.S. relations should go forward on the basis of mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual interest.”

The U.S. has always viewed Pakistan as a strategic ally, while Pakistan has developed a cloying dependency on American aid.

But is the desire to mend these relations actually mutual? Just over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration remained “uncertain and divided” over their future relationship with Islamabad. One senior administration official told the media outlet, “You can’t continue business as usual. You have to somehow convey to the Pakistanis that they’ve arrived at a big choice. People who were prepared to listen to [Pakistan’s] story for a long time are no longer prepared to listen.”

But as much as U.S. senators question sending aid to Pakistan and toy with the carrots and sticks they keep lobbing that way, they ultimately don’t want to do too much to jeopardize that relationship. But not because it’s one based on mutual respect. It’s because it’s based on mutual BS. The U.S. has always viewed Pakistan as a strategic ally, while Pakistan has developed a cloying dependency on American aid. To call it mutual would be a fallacy. The current status quo in U.S.-Pakistan relations can best be described as transactional, opaque, and more often than not, hanging in the balance. Washington and Islamabad, as much as they’d really, really like to, just can’t quit each other.

871 The US and Pakistan: Inseparable? (Photo by: Travlr)

During Senator John Kerry‘s visit to Islamabad this week, the lawmaker, dubbed by delusional Newsweek editors as the “Pakistan Whisperer”, made the grand gestures that meant almost nothing at all.

According to the LA Times, Kerry delivered a very “stern message”, noting that Washington “would not tolerate Pakistan providing sanctuary to al-Qaida and allied militant groups that target Western interests”. He said that both Washington and Islamabad had agreed to go against “high-value” targets.

But according to the Wall Street Journal, the ISI (the Pakistani spy service) is reportedly pressing the Haqqani network to join the nascent Afghan peace talks, mostly likely due to their desires for strategic depth in Afghanistan, as well as the network’s presence in North Waziristan.

A Pakistani defense official told the WSJ that the Haqqanis can’t just be “taken out” like al-Qaida operatives because they are part of the fabric of eastern Afghanistan and North Waziristan.

He argued that the Haqqani network must be won over by talks, despite U.S. resistance to do so. In light of this, can Washington and Islamabad genuinely work in each other’s mutual interest when much of their interests aren’t aligned?

(Ed's note: In a BBC interview, President Barack Obama has declined to rule out further targeted killings of terror suspects abroad, like the one carried out on Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He also added that it was  a "mistake" for Pakistan to be "obsessed" with India as an existential threat, when the danger to Islamabad, he said, was actually "home-grown". )


* BS stands for bull sh*t

This post first appeared on CHUP! – Changing Up Pakistan in May 2011.