As my Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg and his co-author Marc Ambinder outlined in last month's Atlantic cover story, Pakistan can be the ally from hell. But this week, the tables are turned -- and from the perspective of ferociously independent, nationalistic Pakistan citizens, the United States and NATO appear to be approximating the behavior of enemies.
A two hour siege on a site inside Pakistan by NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The siege continued even after alleged appeals by Pakistan military command staff to NATO commanders to stop the assault. Various Afghan intelligence sources are reporting that a joint US-Afghan patrol was fired upon by heavy Pakistan-based artillery -- and thus the NATO air attack was against the source of that attack. Turned out the site targeted involved two Pakistan Army-manned check points.
Rather than defending its right of self defense, NATO seems to be cowering and has called the attack "tragic and unintended."
If the Pakistanis initiated the firefight, then the US and NATO should not run from this. If indeed this was a tragic, unintended, poorly managed assault on the Pakistan military, then those of us concerned with greater escalation of a costly war in the Af/Pak region should be furious with NATO and its commanders.
Going to war with Pakistan is not an option -- though it sometimes feels that both the US and Pakistan are already in some form of half way, informal war -- taking a love-hate relationship to a higher game level.
If the NATO strike was a mistake, then it just raised the costs enormously across the board in what the US and its allies will have to give the Pakistanis to 'maintain' a relationship. If it was not a mistake, then NATO is worsening the problem by calling it a tragic error.
And no matter which is true, it's clear that the situation is so fragile that just about any other party can hijack conditions and send the US-Pakistan relationship in directions that can't be controlled.