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US and Pakistan struggle to keep strained alliance
High level US and Pakistani representatives finished another “Strategic Dialogue” meeting in Washington on Friday, hoping to highlight cooperation efforts despite their beleaguered ties and raging anti-US sentiment among Pakistanis.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Mahmoud Qureshi co-chaired a high-level meeting in Washington on Friday as part of the Obama administration’s ongoing “Strategic Dialogue” with Islamabad –a dialogue that has sounded more like incoherent babble in recent weeks.
Clinton said at the much-publicised meeting that she would ask US lawmakers to approve two billion dollars in military aid from 2012 to 2016 as part of the United States' "enduring commitment to help Pakistan plan for its defence needs."
Aimed at “strengthening the bilateral relationship…based on shared democratic values, mutual respect, trust, and interests,” the gathering in Washintgon comes on the heels of reports that in fact convey growing suspicion and uncooperativeness between the avowed allies.
The New York Times reported on Friday that the Obama administration was planning to deny military aid to certain Pakistani army units suspected of human rights violations. On Monday ,CNN quoted a NATO official claiming that al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is living comfortably in north-west Pakistan with the help of “some members of the Pakistani intelligence services".
In September NATO helicopters killed Pakistani troops along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Islamabad responded by blocking the main transit point for US war supplies.
The “Strategic Dialogue” is also aimed at portraying the US as a reliable partner to a Pakistani public that is increasingly inclined to think the opposite. “It is no secret that anti-US sentiment is widespread and deepening,” said Dr Farzana Shaikh, an Associate Fellow at the London-based Chatham House. “It was once a sentiment mostly reserved by the religious right, which has spread across the political spectrum and has even reached some sectors of the military.”
An unwelcome alliance
“It is absolutely necessary for the Americans to find an understanding with the Pakistanis if they want to continue the [Afghan] war. They have no other choice,” says Alain Lamballe, a former French military attaché in Pakistan, who now heads the private French Centre for Intelligence Research (CF2R).
According to Lamballe, keeping US soldiers well supplied, in terms of armament and equipment, but also food and fuel, depends on secure land routes in Pakistan. Flying in all supplies directly into Afghanistan, Lambelle says, would make the Afghan war effort literally unaffordable.
But it is not only the US that views the arrangement as unpalatable but necessary. Pakistan’s military has voiced misgivings over billions of dollars in US aid, saying money to build schools and infrastructure comes with too many conditions. “Many in Pakistan feel they have been forced into a relationship with the US which they would have preferred to avoid altogether,” said Shaikh.
The Obama administration thinks that improved relations between Pakistan and arch-foe India are the key to a more stable Afghanistan. But like past administrations, Obama’s advisors have been at a loss as how to spur a return to peace talks.
India, an emerging global power, views negotiations with Pakistan as a bilateral issue. While Washington wants to open the two countries to concerted dialogue, it is unwilling to get too closely involved for fear of alienating India.
For the moment, Washington has focused its efforts on shifting the Pakistani military’s attention away from India and toward home-grown terrorists. “The threat perceptions are not identified and assessed the same way [by the US and the Pakistani militaries],” explained Shaikh. “While Pakistan’s military remains India-centric, the US wants it to shift its focus to the threat from Islamic militants. This is where the allies eventually and inevitably part ways.”