Next U.S. President Will Face Old Issues In Pakistan

Pakistan and the U.S. are supposed to be allies, but during President Obama's term in office, relations between the two countries hit rock bottom. Whoever wins the presidential race in November will face many of the same issues that have plagued the two nations for years. But some analysts are saying now is the time for some fresh thinking.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're continuing our comprehensive election coverage as voting nears. Each day our campaign correspondents, like Scott Horsley and Ari Shapiro, bring you the voices of the campaign in a way that few others do - a chance to listen to the candidates and voters, listen to people think.

And at the same time, we're looking more deeply at issues. This week, we've been reporting on the challenges of foreign policy. And this morning we turn to Pakistan, which, as one analyst put it some months ago, is an ally but not a friend. NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Islamabad.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: To be sure, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has never fallen under the category of stable and secure. Over the decades, the two countries have regularly gone through cycles of engagement and disenchantment. Tanvir Ahmed Khan, a career diplomat and a former foreign secretary, says the relationship can be best described as strange.

TANVIR AHMED KHAN: It has more fluctuations than any relationship at least as far as Pakistan is concerned. And the one common denominator in all the crises seems to be a crisis of great expectations, expectations which are beyond the realistic.

NORTHAM: Whichever candidate captures the White House, expectations of Pakistan will likely remain the same - primarily that it stops supporting jihadist groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network that wage war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

For its part, Pakistan would like Washington to stop fostering its relations with its neighbor and archenemy, India. The increasing ties between India and the U.S. outrage many people in Pakistan, says Hamid Gul, a former head of the country's powerful military intelligence agency and an influential voice among conservatives. Gul says the U.S. is trying to destabilize Pakistan, forcing it to retain its own alliances with groups such as the Taliban.

HAMID GUL: If Americans continues to treat Pakistan like it is a surrogate of India and it is the client state of the United States, then Pakistan has no choice but to treat the Taliban as one of their assets.

NORTHAM: At this busy street market in Rawalpindi, it's hard to find many nice words about the U.S. or its policies. Thirty-two-year-old Mohammed Zee Shan sells large aluminum containers here.

MOHAMMED ZEE SHAN: (Through Translator) America wants so many things from us, America wants to use our bases, America even wants to take over this country, it does not give us anything back, it is just taking.

NORTHAM: A recent report put out by the Pew Research Center found that nearly three-quarters of all Pakistanis now view the U.S. as an enemy. This, despite the fact that Washington has pumped at least $20 billion into Pakistan over the past decade, most of that in military aid. But that's done little to secure a strong alliance.

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NORTHAM: Years of mistrust and suspicion came to a head last May when U.S. Navy Seals swooped into a compound near a Pakistan military academy and killed Osama bin Laden. Senior American officials have long believed that despite the financial and logistical aid, members of Pakistan's military intelligence establishment continue to support militant groups.

Jonah Blank, a southeast Asia expert at the Rand Corporation, says the U.S. has to realize the Pakistani military doesn't make decisions based on financial gain alone.

JONAH BLANK: I think there's a failing on the American side to assume that the problems can simply be bought out, that if we offer the Pakistani military enough financial inducements that they will do what we want them to. And that's not accurate, they really do have a picture that is bigger than just the bottom line.

NORTHAM: Blank says at the end of the day, Pakistan's military will put what it perceives as the country's national security interests first. He says the dynamic between the two countries could shift as the U.S. begins to draw down in Afghanistan. Blank says whoever wins the presidential election in November will need to be more realistic in its expectations.

BLANK: Part of the real problem is that we have this facade of complete overlap of interests, when in fact we do not have a complete overlap of interests. The U.S. interests in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are not identical to those of Pakistan as a nation, and are certainly not identical to those of the Pakistani military which is calling most of the shots.

NORTHAM: During a recent speech, Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S., said the next administration may want to think about changing the status of the relationship. He says given its turbulent past, the U.S. and Pakistan should stop pretending they're allies and agree to an amicable divorce.

HUSSAIN HAQQANI: What I'm saying is, that if after 65 years you haven't been able to find sufficient common ground, then maybe the better way is to find friendship outside of the marital bond.

NORTHAM: Haqqani says the two sides could continue to work together on some issues - but without the sense of betrayal that has come with being allies.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Islamabad.

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INSKEEP: We'll look at another foreign policy challenge tonight on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED when Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Afghanistan.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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