Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

The Ugly Alliance

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, October 4, 2011 --  

America's deep pockets have made a superficial ally out of a Pakistani enemy. Ending the payments could create a new war.

When the war of words between Pakistan and the United States threatened to boil over into a military confrontation last week, it was just the latest the latest in a string of American relationships gone bad.

An unbroken chain of ally turned enemy goes back at least to the Second World War. America armed the Soviet Union against Hitler, only to have the Soviets later aim their weapons at America. While fighting the Soviets in the Cold War, America armed Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani1 -- the Taliban-allied warlord whose fighters allegedly took over the U.S. embassy in Kabul last month.2 And during the current war on the Taliban, the United States has allied itself Pakistan -- a country that looks more and more like an enemy every day.

Indeed, America's official policy of alliance with Pakistan has long masked a far more complex reality. While the civilian government and the Pakistani military work grudgingly with America in return for a billion dollars in annual aid3, the Pakistani population is overwhelmingly anti-American. The Islamized Pakistani intelligence services oppose the Karzai regime in Afghanistan, and plan for a puppet state controlled by their proxies in the Haqqani network and other Taliban factions once America inevitably withdraws. In essence, a cold war already exists between the United States and Pakistan is parallel with the nominal alliance.

This dichotomy is nothing new. Pakistan was the foreign sponsor of the Taliban on September 11, 2001, and only broke with the Afghan extremist group under threat of attack by the United States.4 And Pakistan continues to use Islamic militants as proxy forces to pursue its national interests in Afghanistan to the west and India to the east. Pakistan's so-called alliance with America consists of being paid to quietly allow American drone attacks in the Afghan border regions and keep its covert support to America's enemies to a minimum.

The reality of this ugly deal was highlighted two weeks ago when retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen testified before a Senate committee that the Haqqani network "acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Internal Services Intelligence agency."5 A furious response from Pakistan led to a crisis meeting by Pakistan's military leadership on how to respond to the allegations and what do in the event of a unilateral American attack on Pakistani soil.6

The White House has since refused to back up Admiral Mullen's statements, and diplomacy has somewhat cooled the seething relations between Pakistan and America. It is unclear, however, whether a retiring Mullen merely spoke out of frustrated candor, or whether his words were part of a planned attempt to pressure Pakistani leadership.

Either way, congressional opposition to continued aid to Pakistan's military is at an all time high, making allocation of new aid unlikely.7 This is perhaps the most dangerous consequence of the recent dispute. Without aid, it is very clear that Pakistan will not cooperate with America, forcing the U.S. military to take unilateral action inside Pakistan. Unmanned drones aside, repeated strikes across Pakistan's borders will certainly lead to military confrontation. Such a fight with Pakistani armed forces was planned, if necessary, when American special forces raided Osama bin Laden's compound in May.8

Clearly, a policy that requires repeated military skirmishes with an unstable nuclear-armed nation is a bad idea. This is the alternative that must be kept in mind when debating aid. The choice is not between aiding and not aiding Pakistan. So long as America continues the fight in Afghanistan, the choice is between paying off Pakistan or fighting a war with it. Given the Obama administration's strong desire to wind down the Afghan war -- not to expand it to Pakistan -- you can be sure that the administration will do everything in its power to prop up the faŤade of the Pakastani alliance.

Related Web Columns:

The End of Pakistan, February 24, 2009


1. New York Times, Brutal Haqqani Crime Clan Bedevils U.S. in Afghanistan, September 24, 2011

2. The Christian Science Monitor, US Suspects Pakistan's Hand in Kabul Embassy Attack, September 22, 2011

3. Reuters, Support wavers for U.S. economic aid to Pakistan, September 28, 2011

4. USA Today, Musharraf's Book Says Pakistan Faced U.S. 'Onslaught' If It Didn't Back Terror War, September 25, 2006

5. United Press International, Mullen: ISI Involved in Kabul Attack, September 22, 2011

6. Voice of America, Pakistani Leaders Meet to Discuss Allegations of Haqqani Link, September 29, 2011

7. The Hill, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Predicts House Will Cut All Aid to Pakistan, September 30, 2011

8. The New York Times, U.S. Was Braced for Fight With Pakistanis in Bin Laden Raid, May 9, 2011