For better or worse, Pakistan has been the single most important U.S. partner in Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion. That relationship today hits what may be an all-time low, as Pakistan shuts down one of only two overland supply routes into Afghanistan in retaliation for an overt military incursion (probably by the U.S.) into Pakistani territory. But that's not even the most alarming indication that Pakistan is losing interest in its generation-long, heavily subsidized partnership with the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan. Pakistani journalists, part of the country's vibrant, vocal, and typically pro-Western free press, are now openly wondering if allying with the U.S. may be no longer worthwhile.
Pakistani newspaper The Nation ran a staff editorial on Tuesday with the headline, "By Helping America, Pakistan Kills Itself." The editorial called for Pakistan to "delink" from the U.S. "misguided 'War On Terror'" for the "growing murder of Pakistanis by U.S. and NATO forces." They cite the recent incursion as well as the rapidly accelerating program of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, which are widely perceived as killing more civilians than militants. The paper lambastes the Pakistani government's "eternal shame" for tolerating the U.S. behavior, which they say has "embolden[ed]" more killings of Pakistanis.
The Frontier Post, which is a less prominent daily but is mostly distributed in the strategically crucial Pakistan border region, called U.S. and NATO behavior "naked aggression against Pakistan." They criticize the Pakistani government for not resisting the U.S. more, writing, "It's high time that the Pakistani government wake up to the potential costs of its trickery with its own people." Public opinion in Pakistan's frontier "tribal regions" along the Afghanistan border is increasingly anti-American. According to a New America Foundation report, 90 percent oppose U.S. incursions into Pakistan and 70 percent say that Pakistan should not join with the U.S. in fighting militants. As anti-Americanism there rises, the willingness to shelter or at least tolerate anti-American militants will rise as well.
At the well-respected newspaper Dawn, a blogger writing under the name "Shyema" seriously evaluated whether it would be better for Pakistan to simply break off from the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. "On one hand we are receiving so much funding and aid and on the other hand, our sovereignty is being ridiculed by daily drone strikes and now the chopper violations," the blogger wrote. "With friends like these." As for the what to do if Pakistan broke from the U.S., "There may not be a black and white solution to the militancy but the establishment does need to decide, is it happy with the assistance (read: violation of sovereignty) or not?" In other words, whatever benefits Pakistan receives from the U.S., they may no longer be worth it.
Pakistan receives so much financial support from the U.S., money it desperately needs to deal with the worsening flood crisis, that a full break is probably not likely. However, the opinion of the Pakistani people with regards to the U.S. and anti-American militancy is extremely important. President Barack Obama, as chronicled in Bob Woodward's new book, believes that the "cancer" of militancy and instability "is in Pakistan." Especially in the country's Western border region, popular support for anti-American groups like the Taliban (sometimes aided by factions of the country's military intelligence service), looks an awful lot like the Taliban's insistence on sheltering Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The U.S. absolutely needs the support of the Pakistani government if it wants to contain al-Qaeda and prevent the group from launching another Sept. 11. The country demonstrated as much by arresting Taliban leader Mullah Baradar to sabotage Baradar's peace talks with the U.S., which was widely perceived as a threat that Pakistan will never allow peace unless it is on their terms. Even if Pakistan's current government is trying to work with us, the New York Times reported this week that the military is considering a coup to oust the civilian leadership. It's difficult to say with certainty whether this would happen or what a military-led Pakistan would look like. But if even the typically pro-Western Pakistani media is turning against the U.S., then whoever rules Pakistan will be under increasing pressure to end the long-standing Pakistan-U.S. partnership. This would shut down much of our access to much of Afghanistan, cut off the invaluable intelligence provided by Pakistani officials, and make it nearly impossible to guide Pakistan, which is nuclear armed and facing several internal insurgencies, towards stability. Our alliance with Pakistan has been defined by three decades of duplicity and double-dealing, confounding and frustrating officials on both sides. But it is still preferable to what would happen if Pakistan turned away completely.
Image: Thousands of supporters of a Pakistani political party Muttahida Qaumi
Movement (MQM) gather in Karachi to protest the U.S. conviction of Pakistan scientist Aafia
Siddiqui, who was sentenced to 86 years in U.S. prison for attempting to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan. The protest, like many in Pakistan, had an overwhelming tenor of anti-Americanism. By Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty.