Pakistanis Harassing American Diplomats

In an article published today in the New York Times, journalists Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt detail a campaign by Pakistani authorities to harass American diplomats and other US officials.  Pakistan has repeatedly refused to grant visas to American personnel and declined to extend those that have expired.  Pakistani security forces have also been searching diplomatic vehicles at checkpoints, which is illegal under international law.  These actions have hampered America’s ability to conduct its affairs in the country.  Pakistani officials have complained that American foreign service officers have been acting arrogantly and inappropriately. 

The harassment illustrates the ambivalence about the alliance with the US among Pakistani officials.  The main Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, has reportedly helped the US carry out drone strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas while also maintaining ties with the Taliban.  Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who heads a weak civilian government, has tried to ally himself with the US and has accepted an offer of financial assistance for military and development projects, but high-ranking military officers have opposed the agreement on the grounds that it infringes on Pakistan’s national sovereignty.

Pakistani public opinion is strongly anti-American, partly because the US has been launching attacks against militants inside Pakistan, and civilians have reportedly been killed as a result.  The US has also pressured the Pakistani military to carry out offensives against Afghan Taliban insurgents which have been costly in terms of lives lost and people displaced, amd many Pakistanis believe their country is being forced to fight America’s war.  For domestic political reasons, the Pakistani government has condemned American military operations that target people in Pakistan, but they are reportedly supporting the efforts behind the scenes.

Pakistan will probably continue to provide some assistance to the US while hedging its bets by not fully committing to the American war effort because officials are concerned that the Taliban will regain power in Kabul if US involvement in the region wanes.  The Pakistanis do not view the Afghan Taliban as a threat, but they are engaged in a battle against the Pakistani Taliban, a separate group, which has recently carried out several high profile attacks against government facilities and personnel.  The US has aided that effort with airstrikes and other measures.

American officials are frustrated that Pakistan has not done more to combat the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, but they believe the alliance is important for US national security interests.  Pakistani officials share that sentiment in that they want America to be a strategic partner, but they chafe when the US tries acts in a way that they perceive as domineering or arrogant.  The relationship between America and Pakistan is ultimately a marriage of convenience rather than one of affection, which explains why it is often strained.

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