Dangers in U.S.-Pakistan Rift

The diplomatic spat between the United States and Pakistan over U.S. Embassy employee Raymond Davis's arrest by Pakistani authorities on murder charges has led to Washington postponing high-level talks with Pakistani and Afghan officials scheduled for next week. Davis has confessed to killing two Pakistani men in Lahore in an act of self-defense. The Obama administration says he has diplomatic immunity and has asked Islamabad to hand him over. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) arrived in Islamabad Tuesday to smooth over tensions (AP), seek Davis's return to the United States, and reaffirm Washington's commitment to a strategic partnership with Pakistan.

This U.S.-Pakistan dispute comes at a time when Pakistan is increasingly challenged by growing violence, a teetering economy, political factionalism, large numbers of displaced people from last year's floods, high rates of inflation and unemployment, and widespread corruption. Strained relations with Islamabad add to problems the United States already faces in trying to ensure stability in Pakistan--a nuclear-armed country crucial to the ongoing war in Afghanistan and U.S. national security interests. In a Foreign Policy survey, fifty-one out of sixty-five terrorism experts questioned said Pakistan posed the greatest terrorist threat to the West.

The Davis case has fanned anti-Americanism (PressTV) among many Pakistanis who distrust the United States for what they see as meddling in their affairs, a charge largely fueled by the CIA-operated drone attacks in the country. "What is euphemistically called a trust deficit (PDF) has for some time defined the U.S. relationship with the elites and public of Pakistan, and will continue to influence the partnership," writes Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution.

U.S. goals for a stable and democratic Pakistan are also frustrated by recurring tensions between India and Pakistan that threaten a regional conflict, and by the Pakistani army's continuing support for some militant groups as strategic assets in its foreign policy, as this Crisis Guide notes. A persistent thorn in Washington's side is the army's refusal to send troops into the militant stronghold of North Waziristan.

This week, the Obama administration proposed to Congress $3.1 billion in financial assistance (PTI) to Pakistan for 2012. This includes $1.5 billion for the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, which is largely aimed at strengthening Pakistan's economy, infrastructure, and democratic institutions. But as an official U.S. government assessment notes (WSJ), the civilian aid program has "not been able to demonstrate measurable progress." In this essay, Nancy Birdsall and Wren Elhai of the Washington-based Center for Global Development suggest some measurable targets that could help the United States and Pakistan meet shared goals for effective and transparent development.

The foremost challenge for the United States in dealing with Pakistan has been balancing long-term goals with response to immediate threats such as al-Qaeda. "My sense is that we are playing to the short term at this point," says CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey in a video interview. One policy recommendation to address this challenge, says Markey, is to open up trade between the United States and Pakistan. "It's that kind of bigger, more long-term thinking that's going to be a tough lift," he says, but it will help both in near term and over the long term.


In the Washington Quarterly, Paul Staniland of the University of Chicago assesses U.S. strategy for Pakistan.

This CFR Task Force Report supports U.S. investment in a long-term partnership with Pakistan, but emphasizes it is only sustainable if Pakistan acts against terrorist organizations based on its soil.


A survey of nearly four hundred Pakistani journalists (NYT) by Lawrence Pintak of Washington State University and Syed Javed Nazir, a newspaper editor, looks at how these journalists view the U.S. policy in Pakistan and its ongoing operations in Afghanistan.

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