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U.S. airstrikes test alliance with Pakistan

Militants are targeted by drones to keep them from entering Afghanistan.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 19, 2008



New Delhi

More than at any time since Pakistan pledged its support to the war on terror in 2001, America's alliance with the country that is home to Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership is showing signs of significant strain.

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America's top military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, flew to Islamabad to meet with the Pakistani prime minister and Army chief Wednesday. He sought to quell mounting anger about recent US attacks against militants in Pakistan – eight missile strikes and a first-ever ground assault since Aug. 13.

A day earlier, a Pakistani Army spokesman had said soldiers would fire on US troops if they came into Pakistan again.

The relationship is increasingly marked by frustration and a lack of trust, and Admiral Mullen's need to rush to Pakistan – his fifth visit in the past year – points to a new and testing phase for the US-Pakistani alliance.

"This is the toughest period" of the seven-year alliance, says Moeed Yusuf, an analyst at Boston University. "Each side is testing the waters" to see how far it can push the other.

As America turns more of its attention from a relatively stable Iraq to a rapidly deteriorating Afghanistan, it is growing impatient with Pakistan's inability to rein in militants who use the country's loosely governed tribal areas as a base to attack Afghanistan. Some $11 billion in American aid to Pakistan – intended to build up the Army's counterinsurgency capabilities – has accomplished little.

"The Army has used 80 percent of it to buy weapons better used against India," such as fighter jets, says Ahmed Rashid, a political analyst in Lahore. "It has not gone to [building up] civil society [in the tribal areas], it has not gone to changing part of the Pakistani Army to fight an insurgency."

Adding to the sense of distrust within the Beltway is a growing conviction that elements of the Pakistani state – in particular the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) – are actively working with militants.

Critics have long argued that Pakistan grooms militants as a proxy army that it can use to retain influence in Afghanistan and Kashmir. But CIA evidence that the ISI was complicitous in the July bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul proved a turning point, says Daniel Markey, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

"It reduced confidence that the Pakistani Army was up to doing the right thing," he says.