US Moves to Restore Pakistan Relationship

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Pakistani protesters burn representation of U.S. flag at a rally to condemn drone attacks on militants allegedly hiding in Pakistan tribal areas, in Multan, Pakistan, (File January 11, 2012).

The United States is moving to restore its relationship with Pakistan, which was severely damaged during the past year by a series of incidents.

Protests like this one show the anger many Pakistanis feel toward the United States.


The latest incident to spark public anger was the accidental bombing of a Pakistani army border post by U.S. forces based in Afghanistan in November.

Twenty-four Pakistani troops were killed, and the powerful head of the army, General Ashfaq Kiyani, went to the northwestern town of Peshawar to give them full military honors.  The airstrike, the U.S. attack on Osama Bin Laden’s hiding place near Islamabad, and murder charges against a CIA contractor in Lahore have set back U.S.-Pakistan relations.

For a while, Pakistan closed the important supply route through its territory for U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.

Matthew Nelson of the University of London says the relationship will not likely ever be as close as it once was. “The terms used to describe U.S.-Pakistan relations will no longer be words like ‘alliance’ or ‘stable partnership.’  They will be sort of ‘tactical relations of mutual interest on a shorter-term basis.’  The new normal will sort of recognize that Pakistan’s interests do not easily correspond with U.S. interests,” he said.

That was evident this month when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad for a summit with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The United States is expected to counter with a visit to Islamabad by General James Mattis, the U.S. military commander responsible for South and Central Asia.

The commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, says he believes Pakistani officials, including General Kiyani, want to improve the relationship.

“I do not believe there is any absence of enthusiasm on his part for us to cooperate in ways that can control the cross-border flow of insurgents, but also to minimize the conditions that might replicate the tragedy of the 26th of November.   At a tactical level there is an inclination to cooperate.  What we need to do is restore that inclination to cooperate at the strategic level,” Allen stated.

Matthew Nelson says that should be the top U.S. priority in the region. “The stability of Pakistan is perhaps the United States’ most important strategic interest in the whole region.  Afghanistan is important,” he noted. “Pakistan is more important.”

Nelson and other experts say to improve relations with Pakistan, the United States will have to find a way to ease the public anger.  But that may become increasingly difficult with some politicians and religious leaders stoking the anger as they prepare for expected early parliamentary elections this year.