How Obama Can Fix U.S.-Pakistani Relations

Helping Islamabad Through The Democratic Transition

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has become defined by mutual dissatisfaction and by impatience on both sides. The November 26 NATO operation in Pakistan's northwestern tribal area, which led to the deaths of more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers, is a case in point. In a recent town hall meeting in Islamabad with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an audience member complained that the United States is "like a mother-in-law." "We are trying to please you," she said, "and every time you come and visit us you have a new idea."

The problem, of course, is larger than any American failure to consistently convey its preferences to Pakistan, such as its requests that Pakistan stop distinguishing between "good" Taliban and "bad" Taliban and it aid Washington in defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan. Like some daughters-in-law, Pakistan disregards the nagging. Indeed, it might not be capable of living up to U.S. demands even if it wanted to. Repairing the fractured relationship will require creativity. More, it will require a reappraisal of U.S. strategic interests in South Asia.

Pakistan is just under four years into a difficult democratic transition. Commentators argue for giving the country some time, while empowering its democratic civilian government over its military. That, they believe, will eventually set the country right. Yet for the civilians to be supreme, they first need to be competent. That does not happen overnight. Poor governance -- a product of severe economic mismanagement, rampant corruption, and bureaucratic inability -- tops the list of causes of Pakistan's predicament.

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