The U.S. and Pakistan Have Found Detente, but It Won't Last

The transactional U.S.-Pakistan alliance means that, once the Afghan War ends, so will their incentive to get along.


Last week, the U.S. and Pakistan reached a surprising agreement: after seven months of angry recriminations over a U.S. airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the incident and Pakistan re-opened their supply lines for the war in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, at a conference in Tokyo to secure long-term funding for the war, Secretary Clinton said, "[the U.S. and Pakistan] are both encouraged that we have been able to put the recent difficulties behind us so we can focus on the many challenges ahead." The official intent is to move past the bad blood of the last seven months. But is that really possible?

Right now, the U.S. is dependent on Pakistan in order to withdraw from Afghanistan. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year, General William Fraser, who commands the Transportation Command, said that Pakistan is essential to the withdrawal plan. "With the amount of equipment we need to move ... we need the Pakistan GLOC open," he said, referring to the "Ground Lines Of Communication," which is military jargon for the transit routes. "Because of the large numbers that we are talking about that we need to bring out in a timely manner."

Those GLOCs are probably the most important reason that Clinton played nice toward Pakistan: there is little other reason for Washington to grant Islamabad any courtesy on the matter. Ever since last year's Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Congress and the White House have become increasingly angry with Pakistan's seeming antipathy toward U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Leaders in Washington assume, perhaps correctly, that if Osama could set up shop in a huge mansion right down the road from Pakistan's premier military academy, then Pakistan is simply not a reliable or honest partner in the struggle against militants.

Pakistani officials, predictably, bristle at the suggestion that they don't care about terrorism. The Pakistani government says 3,300 soldiers have died fighting militants in the volatile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and nine general officers have died (including one three-star general). Pointing to this data, many senior Pakistani officials insist, off the record, that such high losses -- more than the U.S. has lost in Afghanistan -- are evidence that they take the battle against terrorism very seriously.

In a bizarre way, both the U.S. and Pakistan are right: Pakistan has suffered greatly from terrorism on its soil, and thousands of soldiers have died trying to eliminate it (and far more Pakistani citizens have died from Islamist terrorists than Americans ever have). But the U.S. is also right about Pakistan's half-hearted efforts to root out the extremists. As just one example, in January of 2008 former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told 60 Minutes that Pakistan was "not particularly looking for Osama bin Laden" during the six years he was president after September 2001.

So, despite the many sacrifices Pakistani soldiers have made, their own high officials have been rather public about how little they really cared about ending the scourge of al-Qaeda. It's difficult to accept the protests coming from Islamabad when U.S. officials stake something so seemingly obvious as anything other than posturing.

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Joshua Foust is a fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from He is also a member of the Young Atlanticist Working Group. More

Joshua's research focuses on the role of market-oriented development strategies in post-conflict environments, and on the development of metrics in understanding national security policy. He has written on strategic design for humanitarian interventions, decision-making in counterinsurgency, and the intelligence community's place in the national security discussion. Previous to joining ASP, Joshua worked for the U.S. intelligence community, where he focused on studying the non-militant socio-cultural environment in Afghanistan at the U.S. Army Human Terrain System, then the socio-cultural dynamics of irregular warfare movements at the National Ground Intelligence Center, and later on political violence in Yemen for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Joshua is a columnist for PBS Need to Know, and blogs about Central and South Asia at the influential blog A frequent commentator for American and global media, Joshua appears regularly on BBC World, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua is also a regular contributor to Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor.


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