Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with President Bush Monday to mark the beginning of a three-day trip to Washington D.C. With talks expected to focus on aid and security issues, maintaining a solid political relationship with the Islamic nation is vital to the success of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. The porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has frustrated the coalition troops as Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists can—and do—easily slip through the mountainous region to evade capture.
Gilani’s trip is timely, coming on the heels of the mistaken U.S. attacks on Pakistani troops June 10th—an immense error only highlighting the difficulty involved with coordinating regional military efforts. Both countries have been struggling with developing cooperating campaigns to handle the shared extremist security issue. However, Pakistan’s complicated political landscape and standoffish emphasis on sovereignty makes the problems with the physical terrain hard to overcome.
Shuja Nawaz, author of the recently released Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, stated at a Heritage Foundation lecture that a stable, sustainable relationship between the United States and Pakistan “has to be grounded on economic and political needs of Pakistan.” The talks between Gilani and Bush are aimed at both; the U.S. promised an additional $115 million in food aid, and four F-16 fighter jets were delivered to Pakistan to fulfill a previous aid agreement.
The F-16s will further foster a Pakistani sense of national security in its ongoing regional juxtaposition with India. However, some say this focus detracts from Pakistan’s opposition to the extremist elements housed in their Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow for South Asia at the Heritage Foundation, stated that “…Pakistan will have to adjust its strategic perspective of the region, and make defeating the Taliban—not countering India—its main focus.”
The F-16s and $115 million food aid package are hardly the first forms of assistance the U.S. has given Pakistan. David Smith, Senior Director for Pakistan in the Office of the Under Secretary for Defense, reported that U.S. aid to Pakistan totaled “11.1 billion dollars since 9/11,” with “5.2 billion dollars in economic and military assistance” added to “5.9 billion dollars in reimbursements for Coalition Support Funds.”
Yet despite this aid, relations remain ambiguous. Curtis stated that “Both Pakistanis and Americans are highly frustrated with their relationship at the moment. Neither side feels it is benefiting from trying to work with the other, and at times it seems the two sides are working towards opposing objectives.” Smith asserted the talks and aid indicate a “relatively high point” in the “rocky history” of relations. Nawaz asserted that “some of the recent activities would indicate it’s on a downward slope” and the relationship “may be heading for a train wreck.” His statement that the relationship is “riddled with paradoxes” is widely supported.
The U.S. understands the importance of their relationship with Pakistan in light of Operation Enduring Freedom, but whether we will be able to smooth a “roller coaster” relationship remains to be seen.