U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Are the Partners Finally Headed for Divorce?

By Louise Langeby
Friday, 6 May 2011

The latest twist in U.S.-Pakistani relations has come to reveal a deepening rift that is proving increasingly difficult to mend. Last weekend’s killing of Osama bin Laden in the heartland of Pakistan has caused tensions to plummet, but relations have clearly been deteriorating for some time. The current low was initiated by CIA agent Raymond Davis’ killing of two Pakistanis with alleged links to the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency. A high-profile diplomatic dispute ensued, eventually leading to Mr. Davis’ release in exchange for $2.3 million in compensation to the victims’ families. Closely following this, U.S. drone strikes hit a tribal jirga in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, killing several Pakistani civilians and causing tensions to exacerbate. Combined with bin Laden’s killing these events call into question the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s Af-Pak Strategy adopted just two years ago, and with the latest White House report on the state of the war in Afghanistan affirming “there remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency (in Pakistan)”, we may be witnessing the start of a new phase of U.S.-Pakistani relations. Clearly, both Islamabad and Washington have contributed to the current downward spiral and despite the allies’ inherent co-dependency this trend is likely to persist, unless both sides manage to reconcile their strategic interests. However, as long as the Pakistani military remains a powerful political, economic, and social actor, this will prove exceedingly difficult.

Since coming to office President Obama has worked to shift the focus of the so-called War on Terror to Pakistan, recognizing the direct link between a stable and prosperous Pakistan and success in Afghanistan. This acknowledgement has not only translated into increased financial support for the civilian government, estimated at $7.5 billion, but also a military aid package of $2 billion, and increased intelligence sharing between the CIA and the ISI. Moreover, the counterterrorism effort conducted in Pakistan’s tribal areas has become one of the administration’s top priorities. However, despite the Pakistani government’s official support for the strategy, military and intelligence officials widely see it as a breach of sovereignty and thus have become increasingly reluctant to provide the Americans with intelligence support. The unilateral U.S. operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden last weekend is a prime example of the strategy.

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