More than two months after the raid by U.S. Navy SEALS on the Abbottabad compound of Osama bin Laden, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is at its lowest point in the almost six decades of a rocky, on-again-off-again alliance. The United States has suspended some $800 million in military aid, and the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, is traveling to Pakistan this week for what is certain to be a chilly meeting with his counterpart, Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Maybe these developments are not altogether bad, for amid this turmoil the leaders of both countries, if not their vocal populations, are beginning to understand that a new, interests-based regional partnership must be forged before some political point of no return is crossed. Pakistan and the United States need a new paradigm for cooperation, one that will not only guide the bilateral relationship through the endgame in Afghanistan, but also influence Pakistani and U.S. policies in an Indian Ocean region on the verge of a new Great Game for mineral resources and economic domination.
The main players in that game are India and China; the prizes are Afghan and Pakistani resources and overland trade routes to the Arabian Sea. The United States' role is important, even critical, but it is as yet undefined by American political leaders. Ultimately, the United States may have to shift part of its security and political focus from its Atlantic relationships to the Indian Ocean region.
The mineral resources of Afghanistan and Pakistan -- copper, gold, rare-earth elements, iron, the list goes on -- will play a major role in driving the hungry Chinese and Indian economies through the 21st century. Afghan minerals alone, valued by the U.S. Geological Survey conservatively at about $1 trillion, could follow a natural route south from Afghanistan through Pakistan's Baluchistan province, itself mineral rich, to the newly completed port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. From there, the minerals would find markets in China, India, and the West, producing along the way a greatly expanded Pakistani mining industry and transportation infrastructure, as well as tens upon tens of thousands of jobs for dangerously idle young Baluchi men.
But none of this will likely happen until Pakistan takes a bold leap into the 21st century, shedding its 1947 mindset of believing that it is just a hair trigger away from war with India and that it must at any cost be buttressed against Indian encroachment on its western flank in Afghanistan. To become a player in this new Great Game, Pakistan will first need to rework its relationship with the United States and, following that, with Afghanistan and India.