The NATO helicopter strike on Pakistan on Thursday is worse than the controversy over drone attacks. One hopes that Washington and Islamabad can move past this by talking specifics as well as common interests.
In the list of irritants between the United States and Pakistan, NATO’s helicopter incursions into Pakistan on Thursday rank above the much-criticized “drone” strikes in that country’s remote areas near the Afghan border.
One involves the pilotless US Predator drone, the other, real NATO soldiers, Americans – a worse violation of territorial sovereignty in the eyes of Pakistan.
One takes out terrorists that Pakistan is largely happy to see eliminated, but that can also kill innocent civilians. Thursday’s “hot pursuit” of insurgent suspects by airborne US soldiers, however, ended up with the accidental killing of three Pakistani border guards and the wounding of three more. That’s collateral damage supersized.
“We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies,” said Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik after the cross-border attack. Pakistan has since blocked a crucial NATO supply route into Afghanistan. Other supply routes remain open.
In reality, it’s neither enemies nor allies. Rather, the US and Pakistan are locked in an uneasy alliance, beset by mistrust, that can undermine the war in Afghanistan and the fight against global Islamic terrorism.
Washington wishes that Islamabad would do much more to root out Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda from their bases in Pakistan. The Obama administration has to win Pakistan’s cooperation with substantial military, economic, and development aid.