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U.S.-Pakistan Ties: Uneasy and Essential

Author: Deborah Jerome, Deputy Editor
June 17, 2011


The already fractious relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been further strained in recent days by a series of developments: Pakistan's reported arrest of several citizens for allegedly assisting the May 1 raid by U.S. forces that killed Osama bin Laden; a surge in U.S. drone attacks that have killed suspected militants in Pakistan (BostonGlobe); and reports that intelligence shared by U.S. authorities with Pakistani counterparts about bomb-making factories resulted in a tip-off to the bombmakers (UPI), helping them elude capture.

Heightened tensions between the two countries come as Washington is due to announce new details on a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which starts next month, and continues to want Pakistan's help in killing or capturing the remainder of al-Qaeda that fled to Pakistan; this could well include al-Qaeda's new leader, Ayman al Zawahiri (CSMonitor). The United States also wants Pakistan's acquiescence in the drone attacks the United States has increasingly used to target militants in Pakistan's tribal areas. Islamabad's tacit support for such methods is now looking increasingly in doubt (Telegraph).

White House spokesman Jay Carney insists that the two countries continue to work together (USAToday). And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, along with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say the relationship between the United States and Pakistan (NYT) contributed to stability in the region. But voices of skepticism are being heard in Congress. The House Appropriations Committee on June 14 approved a defense spending bill that would withhold 75 percent of the $1.1 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan (AP) until the Obama administration informs Congress how it would spend the money. Last week, the CIA's deputy director, Michael J. Morell, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Pakistan's level of cooperation on counterterrorism (Bloomberg) was "three" on a scale of one to ten.

It seems unlikely that the relationship will be repaired anytime soon. Regional expert Bruce Reidel points out that Pakistan's army has been humiliated and embarrassed (CNN) by the bin Laden killing and recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan. He also says the United States is justified in its concerns that Pakistan continues to support "various parts of the Jihadist Frankenstein that it has created over the last quarter of a century even as it fights other parts of that Frankenstein monster." Many analysts have noted that the Pakistani army wishes to maintain links to militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Afghan Taliban.

Still, a number of experts support continued U.S. funding for Pakistan for development and security, saying even a flawed Pakistani state is vital to U.S. interests. A CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force report from late last year says while "militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan pose a direct threat to the United States and its allies [and] jeopardize the stability of Pakistan," the United States should continue current levels of funding in Pakistan and pushes for "continued and expanded training, equipment, and facilities for police, paramilitaries, and the army." A recent Center for Global Development report urges a development-centered agenda in Pakistan -- one of the world's poorest countries -- to supplement the focus on security.

And in this new Policy Innovation Memorandum, CFR's Daniel Markey argues that the United States should adopt an indirect approach that leverages the power of influential Pakistanis, the credible threat of curtailed U.S. assistance to Pakistan and U.S. sanctions, pressure from Pakistan's closest allies, and the hard edge of U.S. military force in Afghanistan.

Selected Analysis:

Lawrence Wright looks at the unintended consquences of U.S. funding in Pakistan, in this New Yorker article.

Hassan Abbas explains in this CFR interview why the United States and Pakistan have reached a new low in their relations.

In this CFR expert roundup, E. Candace Putnam, Isobel Coleman, Hassan Abbas, and Marvin G. Weinbaum debate whether the United States should continue its funding to Pakistan.

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