Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

GUEST COLUMNIST: Divorcing Pakistan

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

GUEST COLUMNIST: Divorcing Pakistan

Article excerpt

The history of U.S.-Pakistani relations is one of wild swings between feigned friendship and ill-disguised mistrust. When the United States needs Pakistan, Washington showers Islamabad with money, weapons and expressions of high esteem. Once the need wanes, the gratuities cease, often with brutal abruptness. Instead of largesse, Pakistan gets lectures, with the instruction seldom well received.

The events of 9/11 inaugurated the relationship's most recent period of contrived warmth. Proximity to Afghanistan transformed Pakistan overnight from a pariah -- the planet's leading proliferator of nuclear weapons technology -- into a key partner in the global war on terrorism. Prior to 9/11, U.S. officials disdained President Pervez Musharraf as the latest in a long line of Pakistani generals to seize power through a coup. After 9/11, President George W. Bush declared Musharraf a "visionary" leading his country toward the bright uplands of freedom.

But seldom has a marriage of convenience produced greater inconvenience and consternation for the parties involved. Simply put, U.S. and Pakistani interests do not align. Worse, neither do our preferred forms of paranoia. Pakistanis don't worry about Islamists taking over the world. Americans are untroubled by the prospect of India emerging as a power of the first rank.

The United States stayed in this unhappy marriage for the last decade in large part because Pakistan provided the transit route for supplies sustaining NATO's ongoing war in landlocked Afghanistan. In addition to exacting exorbitant charges for this use of its territory, Pakistan has closed that route whenever it wishes to make a point. No more: A recently negotiated agreement with several former-Soviet Central Asian republics creates alternatives, removing Pakistan's grip on NATO's logistical windpipe.

The Obama administration now seems ready to declare this troubled union (once again) defunct. With Pakistan no longer quite so crucial in an Afghan context and still unable to explain how Osama bin Laden found sanctuary on Pakistani soil, evidence that this erstwhile U.S. ally remains in cahoots with various and sundry terrorist organizations has become intolerable. During a recent visit to India, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly stated that U.S. leaders were "reaching the limits of our patience" with Pakistan.

As with most divorces, the proceedings promise to be ugly. Already, the U.S. is escalating its campaign of missile attacks against "militants" on Pakistani soil. U.S. officials dismiss complaints that this infringes on Pakistan's national sovereignty.

"This is about our sovereignty as well," Panetta has explained, thereby redefining the term to grant the United States the prerogative of doing whatever it wants and can get away with.

Yet there is a back story to the crumbling relationship that goes beyond U. …

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