Should We Still Be Friends?

Can we afford to keep Pakistan as an ally? Can we afford to lose them? In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, questions upon heaping questions have been aimed at the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. After all, bin Laden’s “hidden compound” was in close proximity to a Pakistani military compound near the nation’s Capitol city, and yet, here was the U.S., traipsing around Afghanistan and scratching their heads saying, “Where the hell is he?” Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist and you think that we’ve known where he was all along, you have to be pretty concerned. Why?

Because it’s ridiculous to think that the CIA’s most wanted man could be hiding right under the nose of one of our so-called “allies,” and them not take noatice. Senators, congressmen and journalists alike are all scrutinizing Pakistan, waiting to see if they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they weren’t harboring the Al Qaeda leader, which is what several documents presented by the organization WikiLeaks seem to suggest. According to diplomatic articles, certain Pakistani officials were “tipping off” bin Laden before U.S. forces could find him, granting him ample time to escape.

Of course, even before the bin Laden fiasco, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan was spotty at best. In the 1990s, several treaties were made with the UN, assuring that Pakistan had no intentions to develop weapons of mass destruction, and under that agreement, Pakistan received certain alignments and military assistance from the U.S. and other allied nations. However, as the Taliban rose in power and flexed its control over various Middle Eastern nations, Pakistan threw in its support for the radical movement. That is, until the 9/11 attacks shook Americans and our government flexed some power of its own, which caused then-President Musharraf to abandon ship.

In response, the U.S. granted Pakistan more military support than ever, and under the Bush administration, Pakistan began to capture and arrest hundreds of Al Qaeda leaders and surrender them to U.S. forces. However, as the war raged more firmly with Iraq and the hunt for bin Laden took a backseat, the Taliban began to resurface with greater strength in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, lo and behold, we still couldn’t find bin Laden. And when we finally did find him, Pakistan was more than ready to flip fully back to our side, claiming to be “in the know,” and was in full non-combative support of the U.S. operation.

Now, the United States as a nation is left with a huge issue. Do we support Pakistan still? From a patriotic standpoint, it’s easy enough to just say no. To drop Pakistan completely from our ever-shortening list of allies and stay lone wolf. That might not be the worst decision. After all, the man the Bush administration so happily dealt with, Musharraf, has been impeached and is now out of office, replaced by a man named Zardari. Zardari is working with President Obama to change the current Pakistan-U.S. relationship from one of military support to one of mutual-interest alignment, which of course sounds lovely on paper. Still, one connotation of “mutual-interest” means that Pakistan can basically say “Hell no!” to anything the U.S. requests from now on and not face sanctions for it. And if Pakistan decides to take advantage of such a lax policy, they’re hardly our allies, especially if they start twisting Obama’s arm every time the U.S. requests their assistance in an operation.

The general consensus in the government is veering away from any alignment with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as politicians from both ends of the political spectrum drop the Middle Eastern nation from their support lists. Still, some people on the Hill, like House Speaker John Boehner, think just the opposite. Boehner believes that this, of all times, is the perfect opportunity to strengthen relationships with Pakistan for a stronger (mutual) partnership, as two equal nations who can assist each other. And while Boehner’s points are good and make for excellent fluffy rhetoric, there’s a powerful underlying reason why the U.S. can’t really just abandon Pakistan.

The cold hard truth of it is that we don’t have too many friends in the Middle East, and those few we have left are already tentative to support us in times of need. If we were to lose Pakistan now, we head toward a situation where no one in the region supports us. And if you think tensions are high now, Americans, just you wait.

Ryan Cady is a first-year undeclared major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.