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The most dysfunctional relationship in the world

The most dysfunctional relationship in the world

By Ahsan Butt

If you’ve watched The Sopranos, then you’ve had the experience of being bemused at the insanity that was the relationship between Christopher and Adriana (culminating in one of the most memorable hits in the entire series, when Silvio shot Adriana in a forest after Christopher ratted her out for talking to the FBI).

Well, Pakistan and the U.S. make those two look like Abelard and Heloise. Consider the following facts:

1. Aid from the U.S., and other financial institutions such as the IMF at the behest of the U.S., have helped keep Pakistan’s economy afloat at a time of great peril. To that end, the U.S. is promising seven and a half billion more dollars, and yet the reaction to that promised aid — wrapped up in a maelstrom of nationalistic, ill-founded and uninformed outrage — would suggest that the U.S. is stealing that amount of money from Pakistan’s coffers, or worse.

2. Pakistan has paid enormous costs, both in treasure as well as in blood, in taking on militant outfits on its soil. And yet the near-constant refrain of “do more” from the U.S. continues unabated. Most recently, the visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she disbelieved that the government was doing all it could to eradicate the presence of al-Qaeda from Pakistani soil. “Al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to.” Such statements, especially two days after one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s history, smack of insensitivity from someone who is supposed to be the highest diplomat of her country.

3. On the one issue where both governments seem to agree — that of drone attacks — the Pakistani populace is angry, both at the civilian toll exacted in the attacks as well as the the perceived incursions on Pakistan’s sovereignty the attacks represent. Depending on which poll you trust, between 75 and 90 percent of Pakistanis oppose the use of drones in the tribal areas. This anger was manifested in townhall-style meetings Secretary Clinton held with Pakistani students and professionals on her visit. The strange thing about this anger is that the Pakistani government has, in effect, signed off on the use of drones, and so the logical place for the populace to direct their ire is toward the leaders they democratically elected, not the foreign country those democratically elected leaders have found an agreement with. But that is clearly not the case.

I don’t have any broad policy-specific recommendations here. I just wanted to highlight what I consider to be an extremely strange state of affairs. With the abnormally high levels of distrust present in this relationship, it has to be the most bizarre alliance I have ever come across in international politics. Secretary Clinton’s visit has brought this vision into sharp focus; it is unclear, from this vantage point, what exactly the three-day tour accomplished, or was meant to accomplish.

It also begs a broader strategic question: if the U.S. and Pakistan cannot cooperate or see eye-to-eye when their security interests overlap for the most part (the dismantling of militant networks on Pakistani soil), when huge amounts of aid are transferred, when diplomats from both countries try to sweet-talk the other to considerable lengths (for every Holbrooke or Clinton reference to seekh kababs, there is a Husain Haqqani or Shah Mahmood Qureshi reference to a “long-term partnership”), is there any hope for this relationship?

Don’t shake your head; it was a rhetorical question.

Ahsan Butt is a PhD student in political science at the University of Chicago and contributes to the blog Five Rupees, where this was originally published. 

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