Can Pakistan force US to back off special ops and drone attacks?
Pakistan is trying to use the case of the CIA's Raymond Davis to limit US drone strikes and covert operations on its soil. But with its reliance on US aid, how much leverage does it really have?
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Still, the demands concerning US personnel alone – estimated by Pakistan experts to involve more than a third of American counterterrorist operatives in the country – could be enough to put US strategy in Afghanistan in something of a bind, regional analysts say.Skip to next paragraph
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“The Americans and Pakistanis have all along been working at cross purposes on Afghanistan, the two have very different end states of what they want to see in Afghanistan,” says Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst who focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Cato Institute in Washington. “The reality is that the US is eradicating the very Taliban militants [in the country’s northwest] that Pakistan is using for its own objectives.”
More 'melodramatic episodes'
Despite the sudden surge in what Ms. Innocent calls “episodic tensions,” no one foresees anything like a rupture between the two countries.
“Both countries will continue to need and rely on the other, but the underlying tensions mean we’re still going to have these melodramatic episodes,” says Innocent. She notes that Pakistan similarly annoyed US officials just last fall, when it closed NATO supply routes into Afghanistan over the killing of Pakistani soldiers by NATO airstrikes.
MEI’s Weinbaum says that the kinds of demands the Pakistanis are making of the US – and perhaps more important, what they left out – suggest they know that with the Pakistani economy afflicted by a burgeoning population and high unemployment, their options for pressuring the United States are limited.
“Their ace in the hole remains the [NATO] transit routes, but that’s the one thing they held back on,” Weinbaum says. “They may feel they’re in a bargaining position, but they also know they need the US and Western assistance.”
Calling the current row “the most severe juncture I’ve seen in our relations,” Weinbaum says the low point “comes at a bad time” because it falls just as Congress is showing an inclination to cut foreign assistance. The US is in the midst of a five-year, $7.5 billion program to boost Pakistan’s development and education levels.
'Not headed for a divorce'
Weinbaum agrees that the overriding interests of both countries mean “we’re not headed for a divorce here.” The US may make some concessions, he adds, but in the end it will maintain certain red lines.
Take the drones. Weinbaum says a lot of their missions have been joint intelligence operations, and that may increase – especially with elements of the Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, that have been helpful to the US. But he says the US will have to weigh the Pakistani desire “to know much more about what’s going on” against the concerns over letting key intelligence fall into unfriendly Pakistani hands.
“In many instances we have good reason not share what we find. Things leak out … to an ISI that isn’t all on our aside,” he says, “and suddenly an operation isn’t as successful as it might have been.”