End of the Affair

End of the Affair

By David Ignatius - June 17, 2011

WASHINGTON -- It's always painful to watch a love affair go sour, as the unrealistic expectations and secret betrayals come crashing down in a chorus of recrimination. That's what's happening now between the U.S. and Pakistan, and it has a soap-operatic quality, in Washington and Islamabad alike. "How could they treat us so badly?" is the tone of political debate in both capitals.

If this were a feuding couple, you'd counsel a cooling-off period, as they recover their wounded pride and balance. And that's probably the right advice for America and Pakistan, too. These two countries have been bitterly disappointed in the relationship -- with each seemingly incapable of understanding what upsets the other -- but they have overriding common interests, too.

"There are points of friction, but there is no breakdown," says Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington who has worked hard to avert a crackup, even when that has meant challenging his own military. Most senior U.S. policymakers would agree with his assessment.

After the cooling-off period, the relationship will be different -- with a greater show of respect for Pakistani independence. That's a good thing, even from the standpoint of U.S. interests. The old embrace had become suffocating, with the Pakistani military looking to its public like a lackey of the United States. This was producing growing national shame and indignation, similar to the anger that toppled Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.

When looking at recent events in Pakistan, it's important to remind yourself of some basic realities:

-- It's not surprising that the Pakistanis arrested people suspected as CIA informants on the Osama bin Laden raid and other operations. Working with a foreign intelligence service (even a "friendly" one with good motives) is a no-no in any country. Just ask Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel and is still in a U.S. prison more than two decades later. I'm told that four of the five informants arrested in Pakistan have now been released.

-- It's not bad that Pakistani corps commanders (and some leading Pakistani journalists and politicians) are questioning the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. This dissent frightens Americans who worry about proto-jihadists in the army, but that fear is overdone. Pushback against the military leadership is healthy, and Pakistan needs more of it, not less.

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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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