What “misperceptions” could there be? An arm of the Pakistani government is colluding with terrorists to kill Americans. To most, that would seem a straightforward problem with which our government should be dealing. David Goldman (aka “Spengler”), writing on his blog at PJ Media, quotes another unnamed diplomat saying, “The administration has long sought to pressure Pakistan, but to do so in a nuanced way that does not sever the U.S. relationship with a country that American officials see as crucial to winning the war in Afghanistan and maintaining long-term stability in the region.”
The Pakistanis, in short, continue to murder Americans with impunity by threatening us with their own failure. It’s the geopolitical equivalent of the scene in Blazing Saddles in which the black sheriff intimidates a lynch mob by holding a gun to his own head and threatening to shoot himself.
The Pakistani military’s response to Mullen’s comments and the support he received from the Congress and notable pundits for his accusations has been sharp and without precedent. Not only has the Pakistani military angrily dismissed the charges made by Mullen, the it has flatly refused an American request to go after the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, while cozying up to China at the same time.
The civilian government, racked by corruption and seemingly powerless to control the military, was less direct in its criticism. It is trying to turn the issue into a question of nationalism and sovereignty, appealing to the people’s anti-Americanism and patriotism. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said at the UN that “Pakistan’s dignity must not be compromised.” And thousands of protesters poured into the streets across the country on Tuesday chanting anti-American slogans and burning American flags. A speaker at one of the protests said, “We warn US not to indulge in any misadventure with us, or the whole nation will stand united to defend our country.”
To tap into this sentiment and build support, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will chair an all-party conference on Thursday to come up with a position on fighting terror and the course of future relations with the US. This will give an opportunity for the politicians to posture against America while fanning the flames of patriotism and nationalism. How that will quiet the situation remains to be seen.
Some analysts believe the rupture in relations will last for years, that the inability of the Pakistani government to control the military in the foreseeable future means that no matter what the administration of President Zardari says about combating Haqqani, al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, the military and ISI will continue to use terrorists to further their goals.
Others believe that the relationship was flawed to start with and that a final break is inevitable. Writing in Foreign Policy, Dan Twining sums up one possible future of US-Pakistan relations where the two countries are no longer allies:
Such an approach would require the United States not to leave Afghanistan to Pakistan’s designs but to keep a significant deployment of U.S. troops in place to deter and defeat Islamabad’s efforts to renew the sphere of influence it enjoyed there when its Taliban allies were in power. (Naturally, this would be harder to do if Pakistan refused us access to its territory to resupply our forces in Afghanistan). It would call for the CIA to cease cooperating with ISI, which it continues to rely on for access to the region, on the grounds that our fundamental goals are incompatible. It would suggest doubling down on our relationship with India, including supporting a greater Indian strategic, political, and economic presence in Afghanistan (which would be welcomed by most Afghans) as a stabilizing force in a troubled country. It would require us to convince Beijing not to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of American patronage towards Pakistan; China would need to pursue approaches that complement ours rather than continuing to provide unqualified support to its revisionist, increasingly radicalized ally.
It seems clear that relations between America and Pakistan have entered a new phase. Whether it will lead to an eventual break as Mr. Twining envisions remains to be seen. But it appears that the US will no longer tolerate a supposed ally colluding in the killing of its soldiers and citizens. There will be consequences going forward for Pakistan and it is time they were told that in no uncertain terms.
If this comes to pass, we’ll have Admiral Mullen to thank for it.
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