With friends like these, who needs enemies? Two decades after 9/11, the United States continues to have an untrusting, unstable and unreliable relationship with Pakistan.
Although it initially appeared that Pakistan was on board with President George W. Bush’s War on Terror – helping us capture several senior al-Qaeda leaders and a slew of lower-level operatives – we now know that those who were not captured continued to use Pakistan as a safe-haven to reorganize and plot future attacks, often against U.S. interests. This included Osama bin Laden, the biggest slap in the face of all.
We have been fighting against an insurgency in Afghanistan for almost two decades, only to have Pakistan provide them sanctuary and support. We have been hunting Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Haqqani leaders, only to have Pakistan provide them safe harbor. They have undermined our efforts in Afghanistan from the very beginning but, because they control the supply line from Karachi to Kabul, they believe themselves to be untouchable.
Although Pakistan pretends to be a democracy, it’s really one in name only. The Pakistani military is clearly in charge, and they alienate the civilian government, disagree with Washington’s strategy on how to fight militants, continue to build their nuclear arsenal, and seem to care only about escalating Pakistan’s vendetta with India.
It is absolutely ridiculous that we continue to put up with this. It is clear that billions and billions of dollars don’t buy loyalty, at least not in Islamabad. Pakistan has played both sides from the beginning. They want our protection and money today, but also want to ensure their influence in Afghanistan after we’re gone – which is probably the reason they have been increasingly kissing up to China.
It’s time to face the fact that Pakistan and the United States do not share the same strategic interests. In fact, in many ways our interests are diametrically opposed.
For one, they are in a tight spot because they have a location problem that we don’t have. One has to look no further than post-9/11, when Pakistan renounced ties with the Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban. As a result, Tehrik-i-Taliban unleashed a full-fledged attack on the country, leaving thousands of Pakistanis dead.
Pakistan is also trying to figure out how to navigate the 21st century – decisions that range from how to modernize the country to what role they should play in the region. This is not easy, to say the least. On November 3, 2022, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. He is the third former prime minister to experience such an attack (Liaquat Ali Khan, was shot in 1951 and Benazir Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber in 2007). The anger and confusion around the attack on Khan has already divided a country that was on the brink anyway.
We really do recognize and sympathize with Pakistan’s unique position, but their identity crisis is not our problem. It’s time we get serious with them and, until they at the very least stop sabotaging us, abandon the delusion that we are allies.
It is our belief that Pakistan will come around but, until then, we need to: significantly reduce military assistance, if not stop it completely; seek international punishment for individuals within Pakistan who harbor or help terrorists; and encourage open dialogue between India and Pakistan (read about Kashmir in the India section).