Tense U.S.-Pakistani Relations Mark 2011

It has been a particularly tumultuous year for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Washington has spent much of the year trying to calm Pakistani anger over several high-profile incidents, including the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces, and NATO airstrikes that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. But the U.S. has had its share of frustration with Pakistan's leaders, and outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen openly accused the country's intelligence agency of supporting the Taliban and other militants. Despite the rancor, both sides say they need the other. Still, it doesn't appear relations will improve much in 2012, especially as the U.S. inches closer to withdrawing from Afghanistan.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. It's been one of the most confounding foreign policy issues of the past year: the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. The two countries are nominal allies, but the events of 2011 severely frayed ties between Washington and Islamabad. NPR's Jackie Northam looks back at what led to this low point in relations and whether they can be salvaged.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: 2011 was just a few weeks old when the first blow of the year was delivered to the U.S.-Pakistan alliance. Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore for shooting dead two Pakistani citizens. It sparked an outcry in Pakistan and a diplomatic row with Washington. Davis was finally released after the victims' families were paid $2 million. Bruce Riedel, with the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, says that there have been many issues since that have unraveled the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

BRUCE RIEDEL: The drone wars, the outing of two CIA chiefs of station by the Pakistani intelligence, the death of Osama bin Laden and now a scandal called Memogate about U.S.-Pakistan relations which threatens to bring down the Zardari government. And the bad news is there's no floor in sight.

NORTHAM: Riedel says each incident led to a greater breach, a deeper mistrust between the U.S. and Pakistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces.

NORTHAM: On May 2nd, American forces raided a compound where Osama bin Laden had been living for several years. It was not far from the capital, Islamabad. This immediately raised questions whether members of Pakistan's army or intelligence agency knew bin Laden was living there. But Shuja Nawaz, with the Atlantic Council, says the incident also outraged many in Pakistan, who demanded to know why American forces carried out the raid without Pakistan's knowledge.

SHUJA NAWAZ: The military felt that it had been betrayed by their allies, and the people of Pakistan felt that the military had failed to protect them. And it's taken them a constant effort to try and win back public support. And if it has meant using a strong anti-American platform, then that's what the army will use.

NORTHAM: The U.S., under Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had carefully nurtured a relationship over the years with Pakistan's military leadership. But in his final testimony to Congress, Mullen dropped a bombshell, accusing Pakistan of supporting militants that target U.S. forces in Afghanistan from bases on Pakistani soil.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN: The Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's internal services intelligence agency.

NORTHAM: Riedel, with the Brookings' Saban Center, says Mullen never had any delusions that Pakistan was playing a double game. But his prepared testimony pulled back the veil and showed the depth of his frustration over Pakistan's support for jihadist groups and its anti-Americanism.

RIEDEL: He was essentially saying I've tried, I've tried as hard as anyone can, but I just don't see much progress on the Pakistani side.

NORTHAM: Still, despite all the troubles and differences over the past year, the Atlantic Council's Nawaz says the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is not beyond repair because both sides need each other.

NAWAZ: It is a relationship with a lot of codependency, particularly for the next two years for the U.S. in Afghanistan. But in the longer run, too, the United States cannot afford to alienate a country of 185 million sitting at such a strategic location.

NORTHAM: Late this year, there was another upheaval in U.S.-Pakistan relations following NATO airstrikes in November which killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. An investigation into the incident, in which the U.S. says there was fault on both sides, is not likely to appease Pakistan. At the end of 2011, the relationship is hanging by a thread. At this point, 2012 doesn't look much brighter. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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