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US president acts to repair relationship with Pakistan

Published: Sat, March 31, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

There’s no denying the fact that having Pakistan as a friend rather than an enemy makes it easier for America to protect its national security interests. However, the relationship must be a two-way street, with both sides compromising. After all, the goal is to end global terrorism, and that means taking the fight to the terrorists where they live — Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The United States and its NATO allies have paid a heavy human and financial price to establish a stable, democratic government in Afghanistan and to keep the Islamic extremists Taliban from again taking over the country.

In the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America’s homeland, most of the murderers were from Saudi Arabia but were trained in Afghanistan by al-Qaida, which had been given safe haven by the then Taliban rulers.

Shortly after 9/11, a military invasion was launched by a U.S.-led coalition that resulted in the Taliban being ousted and al-Qaida, then led by Obama bin Laden, being chased out of the country. The Taliban and al-Qaida ended up in the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And that’s where the United States has been concentrating its drone attacks, which have become one of the causes of the strained relationship with Pakistan. The Pakistanis are also still smarting from the murder last year of bin Laden — he had been living deep inside Pakistan for more than six years — by U.S. Navy SEALS. The Obama administration did not alert the government in Islamabad to the operation.

But the accidental bombing of two military posts in Pakistan that killed 24 soldiers and injured 15 has become a major point of contention for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the government. Parliament is currently reviewing the relationship with Washington and is expected to make recommendations for future ties.

Of concern to the U.S. is the willingness of the people of Pakistan, who should be benefiting from billions of dollars in foreign aid, to buy into the idea that the NATO attack was orchestrated by the Americans. It shows that while President Obama, and before him President George W. Bush, publicly hailed the close ties between the two countries, the reality on the ground is another story.

Meeting in Seoul

Obama, who was in Seoul, South Korea, this week for the nuclear security summit, met with Gilani and emphasized that it was important for the two countries to get their partnership right.

“There have been times — I think we should be frank — in the last several months where those relationships have experienced strains,” the president said.

He expressed the hope that the review of the relationship will result in a “balanced approach that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty but also respects our concerns with respect to our national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past.”

The reality is that the Gilani government needs the U.S. as much as the U.S. needs Pakistan. Without American financial aid and military support, the government in Islamabad will be toppled by Islamic extremists who will not only impose sharia law, but will have control of nuclear weapons. The entire region will be destabilized.

There’s too much at stake for two allies in the battle against global terrorism to be at odds.

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