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Now divorced by reality

A cooling-off with the US may facilitate a less erratic political evolution in Pakistan.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2011 23:20 IST

The close if cantankerous relationship between the United States and Pakistan seems set for another period of mutually agreed separation. The US's Abbottabad raid, the continuing drone attacks on Pakistani soil and the growing domestic outcry among Pakistanis about its role in the war against terrorism have been reasons for the present demands for divorce. It also reflects a broad US belief that al-Qaeda is no longer the threat it used to be and a Pakistani view that the monetary and military benefits of the US relationship no longer outweigh the problems it is causing at home.

This present period of US-Pakistan partnership, running roughly from the 9/11 terror attacks to the death of Osama bin Laden, will be the third time the countries have taken vows together in the past 60 years. Traditionally, Washington's interest in this bonding is the role it sees Pakistan playing in its broader global security agenda. Pakistan's have only been about how to leverage the relationship to strengthen itself against India. The question is whether this divorce will be different, whether the fundamentals of the US-Pakistan relationship are different today? There are reasons to say yes. One, Pakistan is no longer a tool in a broader US global strategy. It is important because its own dysfunctionality is seen as a threat to the US and the international system. Two, Pakistan's security problems are no longer limited only to India. The Afghanistan situation, homegrown insurgencies and the militant Frankenstein it has created are as much if not more a concern than India.

New Delhi has no reason to complain. It seems likely that Pakistan will reduce the US intelligence and military footprint in its country while Washington will rollback a lot of its aid payments. A ramshackle Pakistan has long ceased to be a serious rival or balance to India within South Asia. India's worry about Pakistan are the demons that afflict its neighbour internally. In New Delhi's view, the core problem is the dominant and ultimately destructive role played by Pakistan's generals. Washington saw the men in khaki as their best partners in fighting al-Qaeda. The resulting largesse that went to the army only exacerbated Pakistan's inability to become a normal State. That it may pave the way for a less erratic political evolution, not how many F-16s or US cheques Pakistan is getting, is why the separation should be welcomed. It would be even better if US policy on Pakistan came to reflect India's view that the threat is the nature of Pakistani nationhood. Then the two larger countries could work together on saving the third from itself.