ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Relations between the United States and Pakistan are tense once again after cross-border NATO raids and Pakistan’s closure afterwards of a supply route to coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Here are some facts on their alliance, a strategic necessity for both sides strained by what some call a trust deficit.
While lauding Pakistan’s actions against homegrown militants, the U.S. has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s reluctance to hunt down Afghan Taliban militants who operate out of border sanctuaries.
Washington is riveted on the Haqqani Afghan Taliban faction, made up of some of the most dangerous jihadists battling Western forces in Afghanistan.
Critics say Islamabad wants to use it as leverage in any future setup in Afghanistan and keep the sway of rival India to a minimum should the United States begin drawing down troops in July 2011 as planned.
Pakistan says it wants to secure gains made in earlier army offensives before opening new fronts. Washington would like to see an all-out assault on North Waziristan, where the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani faction and other notorious militants mix.
The military says it will decide if and when a major offensive is needed.
This, like other issues in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, is hazy.
CIA-operated pilotless drone aircraft in northwest Pakistan have long been a source of friction, at least in public. The number of attacks hit a record monthly high of 21 last month.
Pakistan sees these attacks as a violation of its sovereignty and says they undermine efforts to deal with militancy because civilian casualties inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants.
But while it publicly objects to drone strikes, analysts say Pakistan is helping the United States in identifying at least some of the militant targets attacked by the drones. Killings of high-value al Qaeda figures and other enemies of the Pakistani state, like Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009, would not be possible without Pakistani intelligence, they say.
Although a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday he would not go so far as to say Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency was supporting terrorism, top U.S. defense officials are concerned some ISI elements may be interacting improperly with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Those worries highlight a mutually suspicious relationship between the ISI and the CIA that dates back decades, including a period of close cooperation during the fight against Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Border incursions by U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, one of which killed two Pakistani border guards last week, angered officials in Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs high.
Pakistan blocked a route used for supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan, citing security reasons. Relations between the two countries have since sunk to one of their lowest points since Pakistan agreed to join the U.S. war on militancy after the September 11 attacks on America.
Although NATO supply routes give Pakistan leverage over the war effort in Afghanistan, Islamabad can’t afford to push too hard. It receives $2 billion in annual military aid from Washington, money needed to battle Taliban insurgents.
Pakistan is seeking a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the United States, similar to the one Washington has with its arch-rival India. But the U.S. response has been lukewarm to this proposal, amid fears over how it would affect Washington’s ties with India.
(Editing by Michael Georgy)
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