Two troubling pieces of news today highlight America’s frayed relationship with Pakistan and add to the growing questions about whether Pakistan can truly be viewed as America’s ally in the Global War on Terror.
News item #1: a Pew Research Center poll was released showing how the Pakistani public views America, President Obama, and Osama bin Laden, among other issues. Some of the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective):
* only 10% of Pakistanis approve of the U.S. raid that killed Bin Laden
* only 12% have a favorable view of America
* a mere 8% have confidence in President Obama
* 79% say the military is having a good influence on the country
* only 14% believe President Asif Ali Zardari is having a good influence
If there is any good news from the American perspective from this poll, it is that only 12% of the public has a favorable view of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The fact that the military is the most popular institution in Pakistan highlights the powerful role played by the military in Pakistani politics (recall that it was only in 2008 that General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, relinquished control to civilian authorities). In a democracy, which Pakistan aspires to be, elected civilian officials must control the military, but Pakistan has little tradition of civilian control. You can view the full poll here.
News item #2: a senior Pakistani army officer was detained on suspicion of ties to militant groups. Brigadier Ali Khan was reportedly linked to Hizb-ul-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group which distributed pamphlets in military encampments after the raid on Bin Laden’s compound calling for officers to establish an Islamic caliphate. “A copy of the pamphlet, posted on Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s Web site in English, claims that the United States is behind attacks blamed on Islamist militants in Pakistan, and calls on the ‘military leadership to mobilize to protect the Muslims from further harm at the hands of the Americans.'”
This news comes on the heels of a string of troubling reports, from Pakistan’s arrest of five informants who helped the CIA locate Bin Laden, to a rumor that Pakistan has “lost the the paperwork that would explain how a compound was bought and built in Abbotabad to house Osama Bin Laden for over five years,” to the apparent “tipping off” of Pakistani militants that U.S. raids were coming. The latter disclosure “prompted senior members of Congress on Sunday to accuse Pakistan of playing a double game by aiding the United States on some counterterrorism operations while also maintaining ties to violent, extremist organizations operating from its territory.” As a result of this “double game,” the most serious (though often unstated) concern of many U.S. officials is the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
What do you think? Can Pakistan legitimately be called an ally or partner of the U.S. in the War on Terror? Should the U.S. stop giving $2 billion in aid annually to a government that doesn’t have our best interests at heart, or is this fragile “partnership” actually much better than the alternative, as many experts believe?