Monday, April 18, 2011

"Khyber Impasse"

James Traub sighs at the masochistic marriage the U.S. must maintain with Pakistan:
There's something special about a relationship that only gets worse, but never actually falls apart. Pakistan has been selling itself to the United States as a national security bulwark since the earliest days of the Cold War, and Washington has been an eager and often uncritical buyer, subcontracting to Pakistani military and intelligence operatives much of the effort to arm and train the mujahideen who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Only in the 1990s, with the Soviet menace gone, did Washington allow the bonds to fray altogether, over Pakistan's nuclear program. The terrorist attacks of 9/11, however, gave Pakistan a new purchase on its self-appointed role. And the country's unique combination of a nuclear arsenal and a thriving population of Islamic extremists has made it not so much indispensable to Washington as terrifying to it. The United States can't walk away, and Pakistan knows it can't, and the United States knows Pakistan knows. Etc. It's the diplomatic equivalent of Tolstoy's dictum that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own special way.

…This is the crux of the new dilemma: The fundamental incompatibility of Pakistani and American national security interests can no longer be avoided. And it can't be cured; it can't even be admitted.

…A divorce would be satisfying; but Pakistan needs U.S. aid, equipment, and training, and Washington is too afraid of what Pakistan might become to let it go. Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University, is convinced that Islamabad has the upper hand in the confrontation and thus notes that U.S. officials will swallow their ire and make real concessions on drones and perhaps also on the presence of special operations forces.

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