DIPLOMACY

11.27.11

America's Pakistan Mess Gets Worse With Alleged NATO Strike

Even before NATO allegedly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, this alliance was a wreck. Bruce Riedel on the decades of deceit that have put Obama in diplomatic hell—and why Pakistan holds all the cards.

America’s relationship with Pakistan is crashing. Decades of mistrust and duplicity on both sides are coming to the surface. The Pakistani Army has an agenda that is at odds with ours. At bottom, we are on opposite sides of the war in Afghanistan, and that poisons everything.

The death of two dozen Pakistani jawans, or soldiers, allegedly due to NATO airstrikes, is the latest crisis in a year of crises along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of course, we need to let the two armies investigate what exactly happened and apportion blame. But the facts won't change the downward slide in the relationship. In 2011 we have argued over drones, a CIA contractor named Raymond Davis, Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, the assassination of Afghan peace negotiator and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, and the Taliban attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September, which the Pakistani Army orchestrated. In every case, the details were disputed, but the big takeaway is clear—we just don't trust each other. Two of the six biggest countries in the world simply have no faith in each other's word.

This trust gap is the result of decades of mutual deceit and lying. Pakistan proclaimed it was our ally against communism or Al Qaeda or whatever when what it really just wanted was arms and help to fight India. America promised to help democracy in Pakistan and instead backed four brutal military dictators. Ironically, the Army believes we have betrayed it over and over again. We have.         

Now we are at war in Afghanistan. Since at least 2005, Pakistan's Army has been assisting the Afghan Taliban in fighting the Afghan government we support and the world accepts as the legitimate government of the country. Pakistan's Army backs a medieval monstrosity that would impose a reprise of the Taliban hell of the 1990s. It prefers this to what it dreads: a pro-India regime on its western border. It tries to hide its hand, but regularly its troops along the border shelter the Taliban and even provide artillery support. It harbors their leaders, including Mullah Mohammed Omar in Quetta. It gives training and advice to those who kill Americans. Former Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who knows Pakistan well, said it clearly: it backs our enemy.

Pakistan proclaimed it was our ally against Al Qaeda or whatever when what it really just wanted was arms and help to fight India.

This is the fundamental problem that all the diplomatic niceties can't ignore. NATO supports the Karzai government. Pakistan's Army (not its civilian government) backs the Afghan Taliban. The Army has politically neutered the civilians elected to run Pakistan in 2008. Three years ago it used the Nov. 26 terror attack on Mumbai to neuter President Asif Ali Zardari; he wanted to cooperate with India's investigation of the terrorists, and it didn't. It won. Now it has engineered the ouster of Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, whom it has long despised because he literally wrote the book on their lying and deceit. It won again.

Now it is interfering with NATO's supply line from Karachi. About half our supplies come through there. The Pakistani Army controls both our logistics and the Taliban's. It's a good place to be in war. The Army knows it. Now it also has threatened (again) to shut down a drone base.

America has to engage Pakistan. It is too important not to engage. It is on track to have the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. But we also need to help Pakistan's weak democracy and contain its generals. It is a tough balance. A year ago, President Obama promised he would visit Pakistan in 2011. The visit is not even on the agenda anymore. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is in tatters. It is likely to get even worse now.