Friday, September 23, 2011

Forecast: Relations Between the US, Pakistan Expected to Worsen

Since the events of 9/11 in 2001, relations between Pakistan and the United States have never been worse. My sense is that they will worsen, which may well put into motion increasing risk to foreigners in Pakistan.

Earlier today (September 23) Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani described the US relationship with Pakistan as fraught with difficulty. He spoke a day U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen made candid allegations against Pakistan intelligence service, the ISI.

Specifically, Mullen told a US Senate hearing that the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, acting with support from Pakistan's spy agency, planned and conducted the assault last week on the US Embassy in Kabul. He also said the ISI also supported the truck-bomb attack by Haqqani insurgents on a NATO base in the central Afghan province of Wardak on September 10 that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers.

COMMENT: Gilani also strongly said of the US: "They can't live with us. They can't live without us." Subsequently, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the US could not afford to alienate Pakistan. She said to do so would be at a severe cost to the US. Unfortunately, Gilani's comments are code-word for "Don't stop the flow of US dollars to Pakistan, as you won't like the result." Describing Pakistan as a powder-keg is an understatement.

As a former US Government official, the first question I would ask is why did Admiral Mullen not insist that his remarks to the Senate be CLASSIFIED, in order to spare another row with Pakistan, particularly considering how bad relations currently are between the two countries? The US used to have secret discussions concerning its relations with foreign governments, which all governments engage in, so why did this change? Why pick a fight when you don't have to? It is clear that in its discussions with itself, the US needs to have more CLASSIFIED discussions that are not available to the media.

Realizing that Pakistan IS a powder-keg, and keeping in mind that the CIA contractor Ray Davis' shooting death of two Pakistanis in March, the US Navy SEAL attack on Osama bin Laden's compound on May 2, that resulted in the assassination of the al-Qaeda patriarch, followed by the kidnapping of US aid worker Warren Weinstein, not to mention other political crises, have all had a collective negative effect on relations between the US and Pakistan.

Of course, Admiral Mullen made truthful and justifiable comments about the ISI, as he should have. Yet, it would have helped if his remarks had not been available to the world media.

It clear that Pakistan is very frustrated with the US at the moment, given the fact that the majority of Pakistanis adamantly dislike the US and Americans. During visits to Pakistan, I have always sensed hatred in the streets.

A very thorny issue between the two nations stems from the fact that bin Laden was protected by Pakistan for years, necessitating the SEAL operation. Nevertheless, if the US were to deploy ground assets inside Pakistan in the future, the Pakistanis might well retaliate with action that could could well be irreversible. Hence, both nations need to exercise restraint and prudence. To continue public attacks in not helpful to the Global War on Terrorism.

My advice to foreigners working and living inside Pakistan is to exercise extreme caution in their day-to-day activities, as my instinct tells me that further threats and conflicts are in the offing. One of my recent posting described an increase in the harassment of foreigners. This should be expected to continue, particularly as it relates to US citizens. Being predictably UNPREDICTABLE, avoiding routines and keeping abreast of local political developments is paramount.






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