The last year and a half has been a rocky road for U.S.-Pakistan relations -- and once again, domestic and foreign policy developments seem ever more perilous. The year 2011 opened with the cold-blooded assassination of the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, by a fanatic who denounced him as a blasphemer. Americans watched aghast as Pakistan's elite failed to defend Taseer, while many Pakistanis praised the assassin. Shortly thereafter, U.S.-Pakistan relations convulsed when two ISI ruffians confronted a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis. Davis shot the men dead. No sooner had the two "allies" managed to weather that crisis than the United States conducted a unilateral raid to kill Osama bin Laden, who was ensconced in the cantonment town of Abbottabad, near Pakistan's acclaimed military academy. Before relations could thaw, an accidental raid on Pakistani troops at the Salala checkpost in November killed 24. The United States steadfastly refused to apologize publicly. Pakistan retaliated by shutting down all ground supply routes into Afghanistan. And this is where we find ourselves today.
As Americans confront an increasingly contracting set of options to engage Pakistan, Islamabad has offered yet another twist to the ongoing policy dilemma in Washington. Just this week, Pakistan's erratic and ever-activist Supreme Court ruled that Yousaf Raza Gilani is no longer qualified to remain prime minister. Then on Thursday, another court issued an arrest warrant for Makhdoom Shahabuddin, who was President Asif Ali Zardari's first choice to replace the ousted Gilani. And just for good measure, the court also issued a warrant for Gilani's son. If Pakistan's civilian government wasn't fully dysfunctional, rest assured: it now is. Unfortunately, ensuring the stability of this civilian government has been a policy goal of the United States since the return to democracy in February 2008.
By any measure, Pakistan has squandered the last decade. The events of 9/11 afforded the country a rare opportunity to regain its international standing after having teetered for years on the brink of pariah state status. Pakistan had become renowned for spreading nuclear technology to such states as Iran and North Korea; reckless adventurism in India; insistence on supporting jihadist groups as a principal tool of statecraft; and steadfast refusal to adopt policies that might invest in its people rather than entrench the military's deep state. Had Pakistan chosen to jettison its jihad habit, sought assistance in rehabilitating tens of thousands of militants and their supporters in Pakistan, and found some amicable resolution to its longstanding dispute with India, it would still enjoy the support of the West, as well as their collective checkbooks, today.
Those years have gone. Pakistan is in crisis. Its courts act on whim rather than jurisprudence. Its political parties are vast pools of corrupt patronage networks that aggregate elite interests while disregarding the interests of Pakistan's struggling masses. Neither elected politicians nor military rulers have had the political courage to right the nation's fiscal woes by enforcing income tax or imposing industrial and agricultural taxes on the ruling elites and their networks of influence. While the army has retrenched from a direct role in politics, it has done so likely because it has no other option: Pakistan's military suffered a mighty humiliation after the bin Laden raid, which left many citizens wondering whether their country is a failed state, a rogue state, or both.
Not surprisingly, the United States is frustrated. Many in the Washington have told me that "we are ‘this close' to bombing them," yet the Pakistanis continue to somnambulate in the dream of their country's own importance. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta may have jolted some out of their slumber with his recent comments in Delhi and Kabul. Not only did he say in clarion words that Washington is exhausted with Pakistan's various ruses, but he also addressed forthrightly the simple fact that Pakistan has taken billions of U.S. dollars to assist the war on terrorism while continuing to support the very elements killing our troops. In case Pakistan missed the reference, Panetta made clear that "anybody who attacks U.S. soldiers is our enemy. We are not going to take it."
Ironically, 11 years later Pakistan seems a whole lot more dangerous than it was on Sept. 10, 2001. Elements of Pakistan's erstwhile jihadi proxies (notably Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, among others) have refocused their efforts to sustain a bloody war on Pakistan itself. These groups have long targeted Pakistan's Ahmadiyya, Shia, Christian, and Hindu minorities. In recent years, they have turned their guns, grenades, and suicide vests against the majority of Pakistanis: Sufis who worship at shrines. Not only have many Pakistanis blamed "outside" elements for these crimes, but many have also even rallied about these killers. Most notably, the killer of Salman Taseer was garlanded by supporters. The judge who sentenced Taseer's killer -- who proudly confessed his guilt -- had to flee the country after receiving death threats. Such disturbing mobilization should give pause to those who champion the causes of the "silent moderate majority" in Pakistan.