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EDITORIAL: Our ally, Pakistan

The alliance with Islamabad is unreliable at best

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Pakistan did not immediately accept an American apology for the deaths of Pakistani troops killed by mistake in Kurram Agency during a cross-border hot pursuit last week. Meanwhile, nearly 100 tankers in Pakistan carrying fuel to support the war effort in Afghanistan have been torched, the Torkham Gate in the Khyber Pass remains closed, and there are reports that elements in the ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence service, are supporting the Taliban. Policymakers in the United States should begin discussing whether Pakistan is part of the solution to the challenges in the Mideast and South Asia or part of the problem.

In strategic terms, Pakistan is the gift that keeps on giving. The mountainous frontier tribal areas have been a haven for terrorists. The Pentagon has confirmed that there are concerns whether some members of the ISI "might be interacting with terrorist organizations in ways that aren't consistent with what the government and military are doing." Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan in general have been borderline hostile. Pakistan has been a center for the proliferation of illicit nuclear-weapons technology and expertise, and the country's nuclear-weapons stockpile is a standing invitation to atomic tragedy. From an American national security standpoint, there is little positive about it.

The United States has given Pakistan billions of dollars in military and humanitarian assistance, yet Pakistan's citizens regard the United States as lower than al Qaeda. In a Pew Center poll released in July, the U.S. approval rating in Pakistan stood at 17 percent, compared to 18 percent for al Qaeda. Eighteen percent of Pakistanis believed Osama bin Laden could be counted on to do the right thing in world affairs; President Obama's rating was 8 percent.

The Kurram incident was in part the consequence of military operations in the complex mountainous terrain along the Afghan-Pakistani border. It also was caused by a lack of sufficient coordination mechanisms between International Security Assistance Force troops and Pakistani forces. The critical problem, however, has been Pakistan's unwillingness to allow Allied troops to conduct military operations against insurgents and terrorists seeking refuge on the Pakistani side of the border. Right now, the only forces that freely conduct cross-border operations are the insurgents.

Islamabad insists its security forces can take care of the problem, but they haven't done so. Conditions inside Afghanistan have deteriorated. In 2004, when Pakistan was given the status of an American "major non-NATO ally," there were a total of 52 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan. By contrast, there were 55 deaths this August alone. In the first 20 months of Mr. Obama's leadership, more Americans were killed in Afghanistan than in the entire period of 2001-08. During George W. Bush's presidency, troop deaths were fewer than two per week. Now they are four times greater.

Pakistanis will work with the United States when it's in their interest. The ISI is closely involved in intelligence-gathering and targeting decisions for unmanned drone strikes inside Pakistan, and the drones themselves are based within Pakistan's borders. Yet Islamabad plays a public-private game and ritually denounces drone attacks after the fact. This allows Pakistani leaders to claim plausible deniability and ensures that any public anger for civilian deaths in the attacks is directed at America alone. There's no question whose side they are on: their own, and no one else's.

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