Once Private, US Now Publicly Criticizes Pakistan

Jun 13, 2012
Originally published on June 13, 2012 2:41 pm

How bad are U.S. relations with Pakistan?

Even as ties grew strained over the past few years, U.S. government and military officials generally used diplomatic language when talking about differences with Pakistan. But nowadays the Americans aren't even bothering to disguise their displeasure with their longtime ally.

Several recent events have shown just how blunt the Americans have become.

Losing Patience: During a trip to Asia last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly expressed his frustration several times about Pakistan's role in the fight against terrorism.

"It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan," he said. "It is very important for Pakistan to take steps. It is an increasing concern, the issue of safe haven, and we are reaching the limits of our patience."

Panetta visited India and Afghanistan, but did not stop in Pakistan on the trip, which emphasized the U.S. military's growing focus on East Asia and the Pacific.

Public Criticism: On sensitive issues once discussed only in private, the U.S. now seems to make a point of publicly criticizing Pakistan.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. was extraordinarily dissatisfied with Pakistan's efforts when it comes to the Haqqani network, a militant Pakistan-based group that has been targeting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

On Monday, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the No. 2 American commander in Afghanistan, said the Haqqani group was one of the most lethal networks in the insurgency and that there are indicators that Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency, ISI, is coordinating with the group.

Supply Routes To Afghanistan: U.S. negotiators departed Pakistan empty-handed last weekend after spending 45 days trying to reach an agreement on reopening ground supply routes that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

A U.S. defense official, Peter Lavoy, also returned to Washington after Pakistan's military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, refused to meet with him to discuss the transit routes.

The routes are critical for the U.S. and NATO to shuttle troops and supplies in and out of Afghanistan. But the routes were closed by Pakistan last November after errant NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at an outpost near the Afghan border.

One of the sticking points in the negotiations is the fee — or transit tax — Pakistan is demanding for each supply truck. Pakistan wants about $3,000 for each vehicle crisscrossing the country.

That's almost 10 times the amount it charged before the November attack. Panetta has described it as price gouging, but the U.S. reportedly is willing to pay up to $1,000 per truck.

The U.S. is annoyed with the impasse and is not trying to hide it. During last month's NATO summit in Chicago, President Obama refused to meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari because no deal on the transit routes had been reached.

Dismissing Pakistan's Grievances: Pakistan has repeatedly asked for an apology for last November's airstrike. The U.S. has expressed regret but, to date, has refused to apologize.

For his part, Panetta last week waved off Pakistan's concerns about the ongoing drone strikes against suspected terrorists in the tribal region near the border with Afghanistan, saying the U.S. has to defend itself.

In the eyes of Pakistan, it's a matter of sovereignty and pride. For the U.S., it's a security threat that Pakistan is failing to deal with.

Fallout From The Bin Laden Raid: For the Americans, this is one of the great successes of the past decade. For the Pakistanis, it was a humiliating experience that stoked the country's anger. Pakistan's government and military were not informed of the raid in advance.

The Pakistanis recently sentenced a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to 33 years in prison for working with the CIA to track down bin Laden. Congress responded by cutting $33 million in aid to Pakistan, $1 million for each year of Afridi's sentence.

Funding Cuts: The U.S. also pulled funding for the Pakistani version of Sesame Street. The State Department said it had received credible allegations of fraud by the local production company, but decided to pull funding even before an investigation was completed. By itself, this wasn't a big deal, but it seems to reflect how fed up the U.S. is with Pakistan right now.

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