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A game changer for US-Pakistan relations

As officials from both countries meet for a high-level strategic dialogue this week, both Washington and Islamabad are frustrated. But a commitment to a long-term alliance is essential. And it can work, if both sides focus on three priorities.

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President Barack Obama has characterized Pakistan as the “cancer” inhibiting US progress in Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders openly wonder whether America is an ally or an enemy. US taxpayers ask why Washington is giving billions to a country they see as a breeder of terrorism. Pakistanis, having been burned by America’s fair-weather friendship before, expect their fragile trust in the US to be shattered again.

That is the grim context for this week’s high-level meetings between Pakistani and US leaders in Washington. It will be tempting to push for a diplomatic divorce. Yet the strategic alliance between Pakistan and the United States remains too vital to global security interests to fail. The modernization of Pakistan’s government, economic infrastructure, and social fabric is a crucial bulwark to keep Muslim radicalism from taking root, or being exported, so easily.

Pakistan’s fundamental problem is lack of good governance. Politicians remain self-serving and greedy, unable to deliver even the most basic of government services when tragedy strikes, as it did with this summer’s historic floods. Nobody seems able to account for the billions in aid that the government has received. Donor fatigue is at all-time highs. The Taliban and Al Qaeda stand ever ready to fill the void left by government to provide safe, structured ways of life to millions of Pakistan’s poor and needy.

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