US-Pak In A Last Tango Move?


The tension between Islamabad and Washington is being stretched to the limit. Reports from Washington say US officials are trying to “limit” its counter-terrorism alliance with Pakistan. But this time, it appears, the situation could be more damaging, especially for Islamabad, because its duplicity and denials are being exposed as it possibly dances its last tango with Washington.

This could be serious because the presidential election in the US is less than a year away, and the American people are fatigued and fed up spending trillions of dollars on the Afghan war and on Pakistan at a time when some unemployed families have almost nothing to put on their dinner tables.

According to some surveys, most Americans believe Pakistan should not be given any aid because it has not been honest in its dealings with the US. So Americans do not trust Pakistan. Pakistanis have been blaming the US for all their troubles.

The irony is it was the Afghan situation that brought the two together; again, it is Afghanistan that is driving a wedge between the two so-called allies. What was clear to serious South Asia watchers a decade ago is now becoming clearer to everyone. The US and Pakistan say they are allies, but in fact they are at cross-purposes in Afghanistan.

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf decided to join Bush in the war against Al Qaeda after 9/11 because India offered its help to fight terror. Musharraf feared India may use its new rapport with the US to expose Pakistan’s covert role in spreading terrorism in Indian Kashmir and elsewhere.

The US was also comfortable in accepting Pakistan’s help as it had used it to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union. So Bush had no qualms using Pakistan a frontline state to break the Al Qaeda and Taliban nexus. It was clear to some experts, however, that this alliance was fragile, born out of convenience.

The dichotomy is now loud and clear. The US wants a free and democratic Afghanistan that will help further US foreign policy goals. 

But Islamabad fears a democratic Afghanistan will be very close to India. And the only way Pakistan can keep India out of Afghanistan is through the Taliban. Pakistani officials have said they will not let India flank their country from the east and the west.

So, over the last 10 years Pakistan pretended to help the US, but only to the extent where Washington will continue to give economic and military aid to Pakistan. At the same time, Islamabad wanted to make sure that once international forces quit Afghanistan, the Taliban would take over and limit the Indian presence. 

That is why it fights the Taliban in Pakistan but avoids US pressure to kill or capture the militants belonging to the Haqqani faction of Taliban creating havoc for US forces in Afghanistan.

So, with their own hidden agendas, Pakistan and the US have been indulging in a tango. It could prove to be the last tango for Islamabad.

Musharraf used Bush as an ATM. Whenever economic or military aid to Pakistan was under discussion in Washington, he freed one or two Al Qaeda leaders. His critics have alleged that he even handed over some innocent Pakistanis as Al Qaeda activists to win American favors.

But Barack Obama, right from the beginning, has refused to tango with the Pakistani military chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Even as the presidential candidate he declared he will not hesitate to bomb Pakistani territory if terrorists take refuge there. Now, with his second term at stake, Obama has to look tougher than even before.

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