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[Editorial] America cannot afford to let Pakistan go rogue

To a developing country drifting towards catastrophe as it tries to hold together under assaults from domestic threats and terrorism, $800 million is a lot of money.

And so when the Obama administration decided to punish Pakistan by suspending $800 million of its annual $2 billion security aid, one wondered why it bothers sending any aid at all.

It is an open secret that the U.S. government was extremely upset after it was discovered that Osama bin Laden had been living in a town not far from the capital and close to Pakistan’s top military academy.

No one in Washington believed that Pakistani authorities weren’t aware of bin Laden’s presence, and they have every right to be upset if it’s proven that Islamabad was playing a double game ― taking U.S. money while permitting bin Laden to reside in the country, and turning a blind eye to al-Qaida activities on its soil.

Pakistan accused America of violating its sovereignty when U.S. commandos launched a strike on the compound where bin Laden had been residing. Islamabad hit back by expelling American military trainers from the country.

And with the withholding of $800 million in military aid, Washington is saying that it has just about run out of patience with Pakistan’s double-dealing.

But before the tit-for-tat gets out of hand, both sides need to step back and take a deep breath. The two countries must realize they both stand to lose if they don’t cooperate. Too many American and Pakistani lives have been lost in an ongoing conflict that has put Pakistan on the list of world’s most dangerous countries. And the future doesn’t look too bright.

Cutting off aid completely at this point in time will definitely undermine the efforts of the U.S., and much of the international community in the global war on terrorism.

Like it or not, cutting off aid would likely lead to an end to Islamabad’s cooperation, limited though it may be, in defeating al-Qaida and affiliated networks of terrorists.

Moreover, the U.S. needs Pakistan for logistical reasons as a supply route for troops in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan may be other options, but that would leave the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban with pretty much a free hand along the common border.

Moreover, the U.S. has been toying with the idea of talking to the Taliban to end the ongoing conflict. For any deal with the Taliban to be meaningful, it will have to involve Pakistan.

Essentially, Pakistan will have to come to terms with the fact that the U.S. will no longer permit them to have it both ways ― working with Washington and tolerating al-Qaida activities on its own territory.

In the fight against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan just over two decades ago, Pakistan turned a blind eye in permitting Islamic militants from all over the world to use its territory as a launching pad against the Russians.

Weapons came from the U.S. and financing from the Saudis. But no one ever thought that one day these extremists would form an agenda of their own, or give birth to a movement such as al-Qaida.

Islamabad thought it was building some sort of global Islamic brigade, but without realising, it was actually creating a Frankenstein’s monster. The age-old rule of thumb that says “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” doesn’t apply here.

Let’s hope that Pakistan has learned from the past and will now break away from the extremists. If anything, the recent past proves that these guys are not going to wait around to be called upon to go to battle for Pakistan against India or anybody Islamabad has in mind. As wicked as it may be, the extremists have an agenda of their own.

It’s not too late to chart a new path for U.S.-Pakistan relations. President Barack Obama has suggested that this is so. But instead, Islamabad appears to be turning a cold shoulder to this opportunity by taking up anti-American rhetoric, playing up the age-old fear of India’s ambitions, and so on.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is pretending that its fight against the extremists is a favour to America. Such an attitude is sad, needless to say, given the amount of damage that these fanatics have inflicted on the country and the people of Pakistan.

Editorial Desk, The Nation (Thailand)

(Asia News Network)