A sustained U.S.-Pakistani partnership after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan could have produced a very different history than the one we wrestle with today.
The news from Pakistan is grim. NATO helicopters engage suspected militants inside Pakistan, killing three, only to discover they are Pakistani soldiers. The angry Pakistani government blocks NATO fuel shipments at the Khyber Pass, and militants attack the stalled trucks. An Obama administration report to Congress charges that the Pakistanis aren't doing enough against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Press accounts quote unnamed officials asserting that elements in Pakistani intelligence are encouraging the Taliban to step up attacks on NATO forces. And Bob Woodward cites President Obama as saying "the cancer is in Pakistan."
One could easily conclude that we are describing an enemy, not an ally. Many in Pakistan feel the same way. And yet the prospects for stabilizing Afghanistan, defeating al Qaeda and preventing further attacks on the United States are a direct function of that strained alliance. It is time for a collective deep breath.
Pakistan's historical narrative focuses on how the U.S. worked with Pakistanis and Afghans to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s: We succeeded—and then we left. And on our way out, we slapped sanctions on Pakistan, ending all security and economic assistance because of the country's nuclear program, which we had known about since 1974 when Pakistan's prime minister announced it publicly. We left Pakistan alone to deal with a destabilizing civil war in Afghanistan, and when the Taliban emerged as a dominant force in the mid-1990s, Islamabad supported them as a means of ending the conflict.