Building Back the U.S.-Pakistan Partnership

Recent news that the U.S has suspended $800 million in military aid to Pakistan due to ongoing accusations that the country is not doing enough to fight terrorists has brought bilateral relations between the two counter-terrorism allies to a new low.

In the past year, two events have increased strain between the nations: the Raymond Davis incident and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Davis was a CIA agent arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, in January, after he killed two men who were reportedly trying to rob him at gunpoint. The U.S. argued for his release under the notion that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity, but Pakistan questioned the scope of Davis’ presence in the country. He was eventually released after the families of the victims were paid $2 million. 

Just four months later, the relationship was again put to the test after a team of U.S. Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden had been living in Abbottabad for 6 years, just yards away from a major Pakistani military academy. This created a sense of doubt among American policymakers, who claimed that Pakistan was playing a double-faced game with U.S.

There is an old saying in Pakistan that the country is ruled by 3 A’s: Allah, the Army, and America. Pakistani mistrust towards America dates as far back as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As the Soviets marched inexorably into Afghanistan, the CIA funneled money to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for the training of thousands of “Mujahedeen,” or freedom fighters to fight against the Soviets. But, once the Soviets were defeated, the Americans left and Pakistan was left to control the region and remnants of the returning Mujahedeen and the growing warlordism in Waziristan on its own. Pakistan felt a sense of abandonment and disloyalty because the U.S had used them as a means to an end.

Since 9/11, when then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage traveled to Pakistan and told then President Pervez Musharraf that if Pakistan refused to cooperate with the U.S. they would be bombed back to the Stone Age, the relationship between the two counter-terrorism allies can be described as nothing less than a wacky roll-coaster ride.

The U.S. accuses the ISI of still supporting the Taliban and other terrorist networks as a way to diminish Indian involvement in Afghanistan. Even still, Pakistan is the third highest beneficiary of U.S foreign aid, behind only Israel and Egypt. Since the War on Terror began, the U.S. has given Pakistan $20 billion for its efforts in eradicating terrorism. President Obama has proposed a $3 billion aid package that includes $1.6 billion for police and military, $145 million for education, $122 million for health, and $150 million for democracy building. How much does this aid cost Americans? About 11 million Americans would need to work one full year just to pay for the aid to Pakistan.

Given the stakes, both sides can take steps to quell the rising tensions. The U.S can placate anti-American sentiments among Pakistan’s military and larger public by showing them that they are committed to helping Pakistan in the long run. The $1.5 billion Kerry Lugar bill was designed to do just that. At the same time, Pakistani leaders can help diminish anti-American sentiment through the use of media by admitting that U.S. drone attacks are useful in killing militants rather than privately approving them and publicly castigating them. 

The truth is that Pakistan is one of America’s closest allies in the War on Terror and rebuilding their fractious relationship should be in the interest of both nations.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons