Time to rethink U.S.-Pakistani cooperation

The following editorial first appeared in the Dallas Morning News:


The love-hate relationship between Pakistan and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan is rapidly degrading. The two sides have an unhealthy level of co-dependence that cannot continue if the United States hopes to achieve its primary goal of stabilizing Afghanistan and blocking a resurgence by Islamic militants.

Pakistan’s leadership doesn’t seem to know how its goals mesh with those of the West, and this very lack of definition is a primary source of persistent problems between the two sides. The latest flare-up, involving a cross-border NATO air assault on Saturday that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, is yet another symptom of the dysfunction and communication breakdown.

But it’s hardly the first. There was the earlier diplomatic blowup over Pakistan’s arrest of a CIA contractor involved in a street shootout. Tensions surged in September when the outgoing head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, publicly accused Pakistani intelligence of supporting the Haqqani terrorist network.

During the past decade of U.S. and NATO efforts to kill or capture al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, doubts were repeatedly raised about Pakistan’s commitment to the fight. American commanders’ trust and confidence in Pakistan was so low, they chose to launch the operation against bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound last May without informing their Pakistani counterparts.

Pakistan’s typical refrain is to blame everyone else and threaten to curtail cooperation. So it’s no surprise that Pakistan now claims that Saturday’s killings were deliberate. Pakistan has closed crucial NATO military supply routes into Afghanistan and has withdrawn from an Afghan peace conference.

No one should minimize the seriousness of Saturday’s attack. If 24 U.S. troops were killed by Pakistani forces, Americans would be equally outraged. If an investigation determines NATO forces were at fault in the confrontation, a full apology should be forthcoming along with restitution to the soldiers’ families.

Regardless of the outcome, the NATO and U.S. mission in Afghanistan cannot continue to be held hostage to Pakistan’s mercurial leadership. The relationship is unduly complicated by the fact that the West relies heavily on Pakistani ports and supply routes at the same time NATO and U.S. weaponry and attack aircraft are aimed specifically at targets on the Pakistani side.

U.S. aid to Pakistan should continue, but it is time to rethink the dependency on Pakistani logistical cooperation. That means investing in other, more reliable supply routes farther to the north via Russia and Tajikistan, which already supply an estimated 40 percent of U.S. needs in Afghanistan.

There is no cure-all for what ails the relationship with Pakistan. But it just makes sense to remove supply routes from Pakistan’s list of retaliatory options, especially considering the downward trajectory of this troubled alliance.


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