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US-Pakistan partnership: Make it work for both sides

US relations with Pakistan are key to success in Afghanistan. Here’s how to bolster them.

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President Obama’s Dec. 1 address to the nation correctly listed a partnership with Pakistan as a crucial foundation of policy toward Afghanistan

Sustaining that partnership may be his most formidable challenge. 

The Achilles’ heel of our past alliances with Pakistan has been both countries’ unwillingness to confront the discrepancies in their goals. This time, we need to be clear on where our goals do and don’t coincide, and what we are prepared to do about them. 

Calculus after 9/11

When Pakistan signed up for the US-led campaign against terrorism in the anxious days following 9/11, the two partners, as in the past, had objectives that overlapped – but only in part. Pakistan, like the United States, saw Al Qaeda as a danger to the world. But its other objectives were not shared by the US. 

As it had when it worked with the US during the cold war, Islamabad hoped to bolster its rivalry with India through US power. Pakistan wanted to enhance its influence, and eliminate India’s, in Afghanistan. These goals were more important for Pakistan than the US objective of ending the Taliban regime and putting extremist groups out of business. 

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