The Corner

Poking Pakistan

My New York Post column today takes a look at the worsening state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, where things have been headed due south since the bin Laden raid:

As Congress and the president pursue their high-stakes game of chicken over the debt ceiling, another war of wills is being waged halfway around the world in Pakistan. In response to Pakistani intransigence and duplicity — especially by the country’s army and intelligence agency, the ISI — America is withholding some $800 million in aid, including $300 million earmarked for counterinsurgency ops against Islamic radicals.

The cuts were announced yesterday by White House chief of staff Bill Daley, as America reassesses its cooperative relationship with Pakistan in the War on Terror. Pakistani authorities, Daley said, have “taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid which we were giving to their military.”

The root of the problem is Pakistan’s tightrope walk between being an “ally” in the GWOT and keeping the lid on the Islamic extremist elements in its military and the ISI. 

In a perfect world, Pakistan would richly deserve losing all its US aid. The idea that Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, could be “hiding out” in Abbottabad — the country’s West Point, a stone’s throw from the capital, Islamabad — without at least semi-official protection never passed the laugh test.

Elements in the Pakistani hierarchy have also tipped off Taliban terrorists operating inside the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan; on several occasions, America has provided coordinates of bomb-making factories, but when Pakistani troops showed up, the bombers had “mysteriously” fled.

To add insult to injury, on Friday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen publicly accused Islamabad of sanctioning the torture and murder of respected journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who had been covering Islamist penetration of the military.

But we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be; if Bush could hold hands with Saudi potentates, we can hold our nose and deal with Pakistan. The key is understanding the nature of the country:

But any serious Pakistan policy has to start with several sober realizations. One is that Pakistan always sees itself the aggrieved party in a dispute, whether it’s dealing with its historic enemy, India, or anybody else. There’s just no pleasing some countries.

Another is the essential nature of the Pakistani army, which is concerned less with the country’s survival than its own. It more closely resembles the Mexican drug cartels than a traditional military, happy to see its host state kept weak but alive so it can play its dangerous double game with the West.

It’s an article of faith among Pakistanis that the U.S. is an untrustworthy ally, ever ready to use Pakistan and then ditch it when we lose interest in the region. With America headed for the exits in Afghanistan, they might have a point.

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