After Osama Bin Laden, America's Relationship With Pakistan Begins to Unravel


Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has had enough. The U.S. is “losing patience” with Pakistan as it continues to provide safe havens for Taliban militants, he proclaimed in Kabul on Thursday.

Pakistan also seems to have had enough. Despite repeated demands for the U.S. to suspend its incessant drone attacks on Pakistani soil, there have been eight U.S. drone strikes in the past two weeks. Relations between the two countries have remained hostile since NATO airstrikes last November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and show no signs of reconciliation.

If Panetta thinks that bold and threatening statements in defense of drone attacks will goad Pakistan into cooperating with the U.S., he is severely mistaken. As the end of 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan draws near, the activities of militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan show no respite.

The U.S. has pumped billions of dollars of military aid into Pakistan, peaking at $2.5 billion in 2010 in the hope that Pakistan would be successful at preventing militants from crossing the porous border into Afghanistan. However, military aid was suspended after Osama bin Laden was captured and killed on Pakistani soil. According to Pakistani officials, the U.S. is withholding at least $3 billion in reimbursements to Pakistan for counterinsurgency operations since 2010.

In these circumstances, why should Pakistan cooperate with the U.S.? On top of suspending military aid and increasing drone attacks, the U.S. is also seeking to deepen its defense and security cooperation with India, Pakistan’s bitter enemy. These tactics, far from winning Pakistan’s support, will only aggravate the precarious relationship between the two countries. The expectation that Pakistan will comply with U.S. demands to act against militants and reign in the notorious Haqqani network is presumptuous at best, and entirely laughable at worst.

The U.S. continues to assume that what is in its best interest — the cessation of terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan — is automatically in the best interests of Pakistan, its “ally” in the war on terror. In the long run, it is in Pakistan’s best interests to establish some semblance of political stability in its North West tribal regions.

Unfortunately, at present, there is no single authority in Pakistan that has the political capacity or will to do so. Between its dysfunctional civilian government, and excessively powerful army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (Pakistan’s national security agency, which is a rule unto itself), Pakistan is unlikely to develop a cohesive strategy to deal with militant attacks.

If Washington expects Pakistan to cooperate, its unwillingness to acknowledge Pakistan’s vehement opposition to drone strikes is counter-productive. As long as drones continue to keep civilians and militants in permanent fear, militants will continue to strike back. Diplomatic relationships require two parties to compromise — if the U.S. and Pakistan are unwilling to work together, the violence and instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan will only get worse.