News Flash: Pakistan is NOT a U.S. ally

By Lisa Curtis
August 16, 2011

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

U.S. media commentators acted with surprise about reports that Pakistani officials may have given the Chinese access to the downed helicopter left behind in Pakistan following the May 2 bin Laden raid.

What is more surprising is that some media outlets still refer to Pakistan as a U.S. “ally” in the fight against terrorism. Pakistan is neither an ally nor an enemy to the U.S.

Rather, Pakistan has entirely different security objectives from the U.S. in Afghanistan and in fighting terrorists more broadly. The sooner U.S. policymakers come to grips with this reality, the better chance we stand of achieving U.S. objectives in the region.

There was always a great deal of concern that the Pakistanis would allow the Chinese access to the downed helicopter. China has been Pakistan’s “all-weather” friend for the last 50 years, and Islamabad would likely relish an opportunity to help the Chinese by providing them information on sensitive U.S. military technology.

China, after all, was willing to break international rules for Pakistan by providing it ballistic missile technology and nuclear know-how during the 1980s – 1990s. More recently, China has agreed to provide Pakistan with two new civilian nuclear reactors, despite that such transfers would violate the rules of the Nuclear Supplier’s Group, an organisation China joined in 2004.

The Pakistanis had even hinted to the U.S. shortly after the bin Laden raid that that they would consider showing the Chinese the downed helicopter. So, if Pakistani officials did indeed give the Chinese access to the aircraft, it should hardly come as a surprise to anyone.

It would merely constitute one more reason the U.S. needs to question whether it should be sending large amounts of security aid to a country that is increasingly taking a defiant posture toward the U.S.

The administration is starting to wise up to the fact that Pakistan does not share U.S. strategic goals in the region. Initially, the Obama administration believed it could forge a strategic partnership with Pakistan and work jointly toward counterterrorism objectives. However, following the bin Laden raid, there appears to be much less faith in this strategy within the administration.

Now the Obama administration is keeping a private scorecard of Pakistani actions to root out terrorism, and is conditioning future U.S. security aid to Pakistan on it meeting certain counterterrorism and other benchmarks. The concept of conditioning U.S. security aid to Pakistan is long overdue. The Heritage Foundation has supported such an approach, including in Congressional testimony, for the past two and a half years.

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