WASHINGTON -- One has to look further than Osama bin Laden's former house in Abbottabad to find Pakistan military officers these days who think of Americans as their friends.
It was the killing of Osama on May 1, hiding out in a filthy house behind high walls in the town housing Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, that has brought on the deadly serious break between the U.S. military and the Pakistanis. They were so enraged that the Americans by themselves would attack bin Laden and kill him -- in their country -- that they have threatened to break all bonds. But there's more to it than that.
Washington since then has suspended and canceled hundreds of millions of dollars in promised aid to the Pakistan military, while they have sent many U.S. military trainers home. The top American military officer in Pakistan publicly linked Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to the brutal murder of the respected Paki journalist, 40-year-old Saleem Shahzad; the executioners inflicted 17 laceration wounds, a ruptured liver and two broken ribs. On top of all this, the attacks in Mumbai on Wednesday have the hand of the ISI behind them.
The Inter-Services Intelligence agency's Section S "operates pretty much as a state within a state with plausible deniability," Arnaud de Borchgrave, perhaps the best-informed American journalist in these areas, wrote recently for United Press International. "Those selected by a super-secret fraternity for service in Section S after they officially retire from ISI aren't known to the chief of the army staff or even the ISI chief."
It is estimated by several of the best correspondents on the U.S. side that about $800 million in military aid and equipment, which would make up more than one-third of the $2 billion in annual American security assistance to Pakistan, will be affected. Adding to the sense of absurdity that hangs over this entire relationship, Pakistan is now refusing to accept some of the existing aid because Pakistan has sent American military trainers home who could teach the military procedures and has denied visas to others.
If this seems like strange behavior from military men of any culture, it is. If it seems counterproductive, it is that, too. But such behavior has become all-too-typical of the "friendship" between the two totally dissimilar countries that, somehow, got deeply involved with each other and now can't get out.
The union between the U.S. and Pakistan began in earnest after 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. strongly supported the "Mujahadin," mostly Afghans who fought the Russians from foot positions and used AK47s to down Russian planes. This made the difference in the war, but the minute the war was over, America exited, leaving the mess for the Pakistanis to sort out. Those Mujahadin became today's Taliban, whom we are fighting (apparently) because some are supporters of al-Qaida.
The Pentagon says there are now no more than 50 to 100 al-Qaida in Afghanistan, the largest numbers having relocated to Pakistan. Yet the U.S. continues to keep 100,000 troops there -- and the war is not being won. In part, this is because most people are not at all sure what our purpose for being there is, after 10 years of American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and at a time when it is becoming more difficult to tell who is working for the ISI, as with the Mumbai attacks, and who is not.
But the worst thing that could happen is now happening: a bad-blood break between U.S. and Pakistan over the various wars in Southwestern Asia -- and a break with one of the few developing countries that has nuclear weapons.
There is plenty of fault to place on both players; in fact, there are so many faults that an intelligent thesis might well read that the "relationship" itself should not be continued on this scale. We could really BE friends if there were not so many twisted parts to our association.
We never had to be in this part of the world. As with Vietnam, we never had any true "interest" in Pakistan. We're always lecturing the Pakistanis and scolding them and, as much as they may profit by it, that is not the way to win friends. For formerly colonial countries, the most important aspect of a relationship is respect. But our relationship with Pakistan is filled with the LACK of respect.
Whenever it is suggested to the American military that we should break our intimate ties with Pakistan, they bring up Pakistan's nukes. Yet, when the entire situation is laid out before you, with all the gathering hostility of the Pakistanis toward us, it becomes obvious that our policy as it is, is the worst possible one for nuclear relations. We need to seriously rethink that entire relationship.