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U.S. to Pakistan: We’re Sorry…Now Get with the Program

After a long, bitter and expensive deadlock between the U.S. and Pakistan, diplomacy and sly semantics have finally broken one stalemate at least.

On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton phoned Pakistan’s foreign minister, offered a carefully worded commiseration about the airstrike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers last November, and hammered out a fresh agreement. The New York Times reports:

As part of the agreement, Pakistan dropped its insistence on a higher transit fee for each truck carrying NATO’s nonlethal supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan, after initially demanding as much as $5,000 for each truck.

In the end, Pakistan agreed to keep the fee at the current rate, $250. In return, the administration will ask Congress to reimburse Pakistan about $1.2 billion for costs incurred by 150,000 Pakistani troops carrying out counterinsurgency operations along the border with Afghanistan, a senior American official said.

Many in Pakistan are already complaining that Clinton’s carefully worded statement avoided “the A-word”: apology. As the Times notes, Pakistani officials seem to have realized that they “overplayed their hand” and underestimated NATO’s (read, America’s) resolve.

The fact is, bad as relations are today and much as many Pakistanis hate and fear the United States, America remains one of Pakistan’s only friends. The country does not poll well among its neighbors, or in the Muslim world as a whole. Few Muslims anywhere see Pakistan as more than an embarrassment and while the Saudis and some other Gulf Arabs see Pakistan as a source of cheap Muslim labor and a useful counterweight against Iran, there is little admiration or respect. Pakistan’s ambitions to use radical and jihadi forces to secure Afghanistan after the Americans leave make it suspect to neighbors, including China, who want Central Asia to be quiet and peaceful.

Pakistan’s leaders seem to have concluded that blocking the NATO supply routes wasn’t helping its popularity with European aid donors as well as the US:

[A]ccording to officials, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani army chief of staff, was pressing his government to resolve the issue, which had put Pakistan at odds with the more than 40 countries with troops in Afghanistan whose supplies were affected.

Pakistan also seems to have misjudged how much the US needs Islamabad. It is convenient to the US and NATO to use land routes through Pakistan, but if necessary we can live without them. And if Pakistan isn’t (and it clearly isn’t) going to crack down on some of the most dangerous enemies the US faces in the war, then its value as an ally plunges even farther.

In the end, Pakistan blinked. This was not an unconditional surrender; the US made some concessions too. However, Pakistan as always is crippled in its foreign policy by what it believes to be its existential confrontation with India — a confrontation it is less able to sustain with every passing year. Pakistan is an angry state and in some ways (primarily because of its weak foundations, the decay of its institutions, its insecure nuclear program and its economic problems) a dangerous one. But it is also a weak state, and it is likely to spend a lot more time blinking than its leaders or its people would like.

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  • Anthony

    Related and contextual material at (No More Bullying Pakistan – Vali Nasr).

  • Abhishek

    Professor Mead,

    Nice post! I’m quite appalled that US lets proxies, viz., Haqqani Network etc. funded, trained and directed by Pakistani ISI to fight and at times kill/main ISAF forces in A’stan. Isn’t the superpower boxed in by a much smaller nation state?

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