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US-Pak: An affair gone wrong

By Kamna Arora | Last Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 15:10
Kamna Arora
Éminence grise

The US and Pakistan may hate each other, but certainly can’t live without each other either. Washington keeps on issuing statements that it wants Pakistan to move ahead, but rules out bowing to Pakistan’s demand for apology for killing 26 Pakistani soldiers last year.

Islamabad, on one hand, hinted that it wanted to mend ties with the US (who won’t fall for US dollars), but, on the other hand, irked Washington by sentencing the Pakistani physician, who had aided the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in tracking Osama bin Laden, to a 33-year prison term.

Some reports had suggested that the recently-concluded NATO Summit in Chicago could break the logjam between the two sides, but soon such hopes were dashed.

In fact, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who was invited to the high-profile summit quite late, was snubbed harshly by his US counterpart Barack Obama, as the latter did not give the same one-on-one treatment to the former as accorded to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The Pakistani media described this whole episode in Chicago as “humiliation”.

By far, 2011 was the most chaotic year in a decade of tense ties between Pakistan and the US. The duo weathered many crises, from Raymond Davis fiasco, the Abbottabad raid to the NATO attack and Shakil Afridi’s conviction.

The US has been trying hard to convince Pakistan to re-open the strategic supply corridor between the port of Karachi and the Afghan border in the historic Khyber Pass. But the South Asian country is showing reluctance in re-opening the route, which is crucial for sending NATO supplies to Afghanistan. Taking full advantage of its location on the map, Islamabad is reportedly bargaining with the US and demanding USD 5,000 per truck passing through its territory. The fees paid prior to the Salala attack was about USD 250 per truck.

US Senators have described the transit fees demanded by Pakistan as "extortion". Putting up a brave face, General John Allen, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said: "The closure of the ground line of communication has had no impact on my campaign. In fact, in the many different measures of stockage levels, if you will, of some of the key supplies that we measure -- fuels and food and ammunition, et cetera -- my stockage levels are higher today than they were on the 25th of November.”

When the international community was waiting to see both the sides resolve the matter, Pakistan sentenced Shakil Afridi to 33 years of rigorous imprisonment. He was arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency three weeks after the May 02 raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year.

The doctor’s conviction added to an already-damaged relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

The Pakistani court found Afridi guilty of "spying on al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden without bringing it to the notice of the government of Pakistan".

Now, the Obama administration is angry. Pakistan has failed to arrest anyone who helped Osama in hiding in Abbottabad for so long, but the so-called ally in “war on terror” has jailed the one who helped the US find the world’s most wanted terrorist.

Reacting to the news, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States "does not believe there is any basis for holding Dr Afridi...His help, after all, was instrumental in taking down one of the world's most notorious murderers".

"This action by Dr Afridi helped to bring about the end of the reign of terror - designed and executed by bin Laden - (and) was not in any way a betrayal of Pakistan. ... We will continue to press it with the government of Pakistan."

This step of Pakistan has not gone down well with the US lawmakers as well.

Lindsey Graham, a Senate Republican, called Pakistan a "schizophrenic ally” and California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher announced, "Pakistan was and remains a terrorist state”.

In fact, a key US Senate panel even voted to cut USD 33 billion aid (a million for each year of Afridi’s sentence) to Pakistan for its continued support to state-engineered extremism.

The continuous US drone attacks in Pakistan further add fuel to the fire. The strikes by the US do not only evoke anti-America sentiments among tribal Pakistanis, but also put a pressure upon Islamabad.

No doubt, Pakistan needs the US and the US needs Pakistan, and the two will patch up soon. But, as California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher says, “Carrots are not enough when dealing with an adversary. Sticks are needed to prove we are serious”. Is Washington ready to show its mettle to Islamabad?

First Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 15:10

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