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Going beyond a catfight

In the US-Pak spat over the Haqqani Network, the former’s got the upper hand.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2011 01:13 IST

New Delhi tends to yawn when the US and Pakistan get into a screaming match.

These two frenemies have always had a roller coaster relationship so the occasional trough is expected. However, the present state of friction is unusual in its intensity.

Pakistan’s grievances are well-known.

It believes the US has been a fair- weather friend, is too cozy with India and that many of Pakistan’s present internal woes, such as its Taliban problem, are a fallout of aligning too closely with Washington. The US sees these arguments as fraudulent.

It has provided Pakistan more assistance than any other country and received little but abuse in return. While loudly declaring its support for the US “war on terror”, Pakistan has provided at least passive support to many of the militant groups who now attack US troops in Afghanistan.

This includes the so-called Haqqani Network, the overt reason for the present falling out between the two countries. Their relationship has been repaired before because the core interests of the two still require a working relationship.

The US cannot wage its war in Afghanistan without Pakistani airspace rights and the supplies that come through Karachi. Pakistan is wary of alienating what remains even now its main overseas economic backer.

The question to ask is whether the present catfight between the two countries is different from the past such incidents? The answer is yes.

Abbottabad was a crucial turning point in the relationship. Washington finds it hard to believe that the Pakistani military was not complicit in providing a hiding place to Osama bin Laden.

So it has been far more strident about the relationship between the Pakistan military and the Haqqani Network than would have been expected. The Pakistani brass has carefully rallied all elements of Pakistani society against the US, playing on a widespread anti-American sentiment in the country.

There is no doubt that by the past downs in the relationship, the present one is unusually blunt and unforgiving. The US has begun signaling that it wants the anti-US rhetoric toned down.

This is no surprise: it still needs Pakistani assistance to keep its troops in Afghanistan. And, more than anything else, it still fears State collapse in Pakistan and the loss of control of the latter’s nuclear arsenal.

But the strength of the accusations made by US officials seems to indicate that military aid to Pakistan is going to become increasingly hostage to the state of bilateral relations.

This is something that will be appreciated in India. As the US withdraws from Afghanistan and its supply requirements fall, the expectation will be that US aid for the Pakistani army will see a corresponding drop.

One positive fallout for India is that its neighbour seems more willing to be sensible about the peace process when it does not believe it has the backing of the US.