- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2012

Talk of a diplomatic divorce has U.S. and Pakistani officials trying to patch things up, and maybe get a little counseling.

“We have gone through a difficult period. Then we had a pause for a couple of months,” Richard Hoagland, the top U.S. diplomat in Pakistan, told reporters in Islamabad this week.

Sounding like a man with regrets, he added: “I think that both sides have come to the point where we say, ‘Okay. We need to define this relationship clearly ‘ “

Mr. Hoagland, the acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy, told reporters from the Pakistani journals the Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt that both countries have a strategic interest in maintaining close ties, especially in the effort to combat terrorism.

The divorce talk started in Washington last week, when Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., bemoaned the sorry state of affairs.

“If, in 65 years, you haven’t been able to find sufficient common ground to live together, and you had three separations and four reaffirmations of marriage, then maybe the better way is to find friendship outside of the marital bond,” he told the Center for the National Interest.

Tension between Washington and Islamabad had been mounting for years. It grew worse after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban regime, which had allowed Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to use Afghan territory to launch the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Fighting spilled over into Pakistan’s lawless border areas, where some tribes embraced the Taliban and provided them shelter to launch retaliatory attacks into Afghanistan.

Soon, accusations that Pakistani spymasters supported terrorists were flying in Washington, and unmanned U.S. drones were flying over Pakistan.

In a secret raid last year, U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden, who was hiding in a Pakistani garrison town a short distance from the national military academy. That led to more complaints from Washington about terrorists in Pakistan and outrage from Pakistan that the U.S. violated its sovereign territory.

All it took to wreck the relations was an accidental skirmish between U.S. and Pakistani troops that left 24 Pakistanis dead in a November border clash. Pakistan shut down a vital NATO supply route for coalition forces in Afghanistan for eight months.

In his interview with Pakistani reporters, Mr. Hoagland said he was “very intrigued” by Mr. Haqqani’s speech to the Washington think tank. “He did say [that] maybe it’s time for divorce, but he was much more subtle than that,” Mr. Hoagland said. “Because what he said is, if you have a long-term dysfunctional relationship, then maybe it is just better to divorce, step back and then you can find new ways to communicate with each other.”

Driven to drink

Perhaps the strain in U.S.-Afghan relations has taken another toll.

Less the three weeks after stepping down as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker was arrested on drunken driving charges.

Mr. Crocker was visiting his hometown of Spokane, Wash., when a state trooper pulled him over after a motorist had complained about his erratic driving, a Washington state trooper told the Associated Press. He registered a .16 blood-alcohol content, which is twice the legal limit, the trooper said.

Mr. Crocker was on leave from his position as dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

The career ambassador had come out of retirement at President Obama’s request to take over the embassy in Kabul. He left after a year because of an undisclosed medical condition.

The 63-year-old diplomat had served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon before accepting the assignment to Afghanistan in July 2011. He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr. Crocker is due in court Sept. 12.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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