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In diplomacy, it is important to be armed with carrots as well as sticks. In recent days, the United States has been using both in its attempts to get its relationship with Pakistan back on track. The uneasy but vital alliance was rocked by the recent deaths of three Pakistani soldiers, killed by friendly fire from American helicopters that had invaded Pakistan’s territory to engage Taliban forces operating there. The Pakistani troops, stationed at a border monitoring station, witnessed the battle between the American Apache helicopters and the militants (who were wiped out) and when the helicopters approached their position, the Pakistani soldiers unwisely fired warning shots. The American gunships, mistaking the warning shots for hostile fire, engaged with missiles. The resulting deaths have placed a serious strain on an already frightfully complex relationship.
Pakistan is a troubled nation, with deeply divided loyalties. It cannot be said to have one true central government, as it is ruled by a turbulent combination of military officers, elected civilian officials, intelligence agents and, increasingly, Islamic extremist radicals and tribal warlords. These various groups are constantly competing against each other, and working with or against the Western Allies, as they see fit. Cooperating with the West, when there is cooperation, is not a matter of ideology or of shared goals, but simply of mutual necessity.
While struggling with modernization, Islamic insurgencies, natural disasters and constantly keeping an eye on its chief rival, nuclear-armed India, Pakistan cannot afford to be our enemy. But nor can such a divided country really be our friend. Given Pakistan’s extremely valuable strategic location, however, directly south of the primary front of the war against Islamism in Afghanistan, the preservation of a working relationship with Islamabad is, frustratingly, essential.
The friendly fire incident that set off this latest crisis, while an unusually serious event, did not happen in isolation. President Obama, who has gone far out on a political limb by taking ownership of the war in Afghanistan, has ramped up the pressure on enemy forces seeking refuge in the largely lawless northern PakistanI tribal areas, including an ever-growing number of missile attacks by unmanned Predator drones on terrorists inside Pakistan. These attacks were deeply troubling to Pakistan, and embarrassing to its military. An actual invasion by manned aircraft, resulting in the deaths of Pakistani soldiers, was too much for it to take, and last week, Pakistan shut down a vital overland crossing from its territory into Afghanistan. This route is key for NATO’s efforts to resupply its combat forces currently waging war against the Taliban in the American and Canadian operational areas to the south of Kandahar City.
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