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U.S. and Pakistan

Published May 25, 2012 1:01 am

Alliance of mutual distrust
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

American officials are expressing outrage that Pakistan has convicted Shakil Afridi of treason. He is the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA to locate Osama bin Laden prior to the U.S. raid in Abbottabad a year ago that killed the al-Qaida chief. But many Pakistanis do not believe that the United States has their best interests at heart, and they are outraged at continuing U.S. violations of Pakistan's sovereignty, including the Abbottabad raid itself.

What we have here is so much more than a failure to communicate. U.S. conventional wisdom holds that the Pakistanis are simply misguided, that they don't realize that the United States and Pakistan share a mutual interest in defeating militant extremists who would like nothing better than to topple the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan and the Pakistani government as well.

So far, however, the United States has failed to convert Pakistani leaders, and especially the Pakistani people, to the U.S. version of reality. As the United States draws down troops in preparation for its exit from Afghanistan, and its influence wanes, bringing the Pakistanis around to the U.S. point of view will become even harder.

The United States and Pakistan were closer allies back in the days when they both were fighting a covert war in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The United States funneled supplies through Pakistan to militants who fought the red menace, including bin Laden. The Pakistani intelligence service also fostered the Taliban as its surrogate in Afghanistan.

That all began to change when the Soviets withdrew, and the Taliban finally imposed order in Afghanistan after a brutal civil war between competing warlords.

Then, as they say, 9/11 changed everything. Now, the Taliban and al-Qaida were the enemy of the United States, and it expected Pakistan to view them the same way. But old habits die hard.

The United States is frustrated that Pakistan does not suppress anti-U.S. militants in its territories. For its part, Pakistan is outraged by the raid that killed bin Laden and by ongoing CIA drone attacks against militants in Pakistani territory, one of which last November killed 24 Pakistani troops. The United States didn't tip Pakistan to the raid on bin Laden's compound because it did not trust Pakistan to keep the secret. Many in the United States suspect the Pakistani military sheltered bin Laden.

So, the relationship amounts to an alliance built of mutual distrust. Certainly not unprecedented in history, but it's not going to be smooth.