- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan could precipitate a loss in the war in Afghanistan, according to a new think tank report.

“If the U.S. and Pakistan cannot work together, then the war in Afghanistan may well be lost inside Pakistan,” warns the Atlantic Council report “Pakistan in the Danger Zone: A Tenuous U.S.-Pakistan Relationship.”

The report’s author, Shuja Nawaz, director of the council’s South Asia center, said that unless some “game-changing steps” are taken by both sides, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship may head into “another serious downturn, marked by continuing mistrust and a disconnect between the public posturing and private dialogues.”

Mr. Nawaz said the U.S. must provide Pakistan the tools it needs to fight the war against militancy: “more helicopters, more protection for its forces; better police and Frontier Corps training, and greater interaction with middle and lower ranking officers.”

“The flow of military hardware has been spotty at best and certainly not in the volume that would meet or exceed Pakistani expectations,” he added.

The report notes that while the Pakistani military has had some success in uprooting home-grown terrorists, the civilian government appears to have neither the will nor the ability to muster support for longer-term reform or sustainable policies.

Mr. Nawaz chided the Pakistani government for not prosecuting the fight against the Taliban on a war footing. Instead, he said, the government was treating the war as a “part-time activity or a purely military venture outsourced to its army.”

President Obama has described Pakistan as the epicenter of the U.S.’ struggle against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

According to recent polls, a growing number of Pakistanis see the U.S. as the biggest threat to their country.

A recent Pew study found U.S. favorability among Pakistanis at 17 percent. Eight percent of the respondents had a favorable impression of Mr. Obama. President George W. Bush scored 7 percent in a similar poll in 2008.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said the polls show Pakistanis have an “extremely antagonistic attitude” toward the U.S.

“When you outpoll India as the bad guy in Pakistan, you are in deep, deep trouble,” Mr. Riedel said at a recent discussion at USAID.

Mr. Nawaz said a civilian nuclear deal between the U.S. and Pakistan, similar to the one the Bush administration struck with India, would be the biggest game changer in terms of public perception of the U.S.

However, many members of Congress, which would have to approve such a deal, are reluctant to support such an initiative given Pakistan’s spotty proliferation record.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, who headed Pakistan’s nuclear program for more than two decades, ran a nuclear black market that supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Mr. Nawaz said the U.S. and Pakistan appear to have different objectives while speaking about similar goals.

“While both are fighting terrorism and militancy, the U.S. is looking for a safe military exit out of a stabilized Afghanistan while ensuring that al Qaeda does not re-emerge,” he said. “Pakistan seeks to secure its own territory against an active homegrown insurgency while keeping a wary eye on India to its east.”

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as to freely discuss intelligence matters, described cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan as strong.

“The partnership is guided in many ways by shared interests, especially when it comes to the problem of terrorism,” the official said. “Both our countries are major targets.”

Mr. Nawaz noted that domestic politics in Pakistan, which has swung between military dictatorships and fragile civilian governments since achieving independence in 1947, remain in flux. Political brinkmanship, cronyism and corruption are still endemic in Pakistan, he said.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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