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U.S.-Pakistan relationship not as bad as it seems

By Husain Haqqani, Special to CNN
  • Media characterization of a breakdown in relations is exaggerated, says Haqqani
  • U.S. must examine why it did not inform Pakistani leadership of bin Laden operation, he says
  • Haqqani: Mutual benefit of U.S.-Pakistan alliance cannot be overstated

Editor's note: Husain Haqqani is Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States

(CNN) -- The U.S.-Pakistan relationship faces new challenges, but recent media characterization of a breakdown in relations is clearly exaggerated.

Hyperbole and soundbites are influencing discussion of a crucial international partnership. During recent interaction with members of Congress and the media I have been asked why Pakistan has not gone after those who helped Osama bin Laden live in a compound in Abbottabad. Moreover, we have been accused of arresting those who assisted in the raid that killed bin Laden.

The truth is, many persons have been detained or questioned by Pakistani intelligence to identify members of bin Laden's support network. Even if some people were arrested for collaborating with a foreign intelligence service, that would not be different from the United States arresting Jonathan Pollard for spying on behalf of America's friend Israel. Allies share intelligence. They should not be found conducting espionage on one another.

It is now time for all of us to take a deep breath and objectively evaluate the realities of the relationship between America and Pakistan in a way that furthers our shared goals and objectives. Public recrimination and cynicism is not the way forward.

Pakistan knew about U.S. activity in Abbottabad, says source

I have practically lived on Capitol Hill since bin Laden's elimination and fully realize the frustration and agitation of the U.S. Congress with what it perceives to be the lack of adequate cooperation between our two governments, militaries and intelligence services.

Conversely, the standing of the United States in Pakistan, which has not been high for decades, has sunk to what may be its lowest level in history. Most Pakistanis mistrust the motives of the United States, believing America is somehow manipulating, exploiting, patronizing and treating us with contempt. The fear that the United States will desert Pakistan once again, as it did at the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989, is widespread.

Some ask how bin Laden could live in Pakistan for years "in plain sight"? The episode is a moment of introspection for both Pakistan and the United States. On the Pakistan side, a high level commission -- along the lines of the 9/11 Commission and Warren Commission -- will determine how bin laden lived in Pakistan without detection and how we can improve our surveillance to root out other terrorists in our country. It will also investigate how a foreign force, albeit an ally, could penetrate our airspace and conduct a military operation without our knowledge.

On the U.S. side, there needs to be an examination as to why the U.S. did not feel the need to inform the Pakistani leadership of the operation, being sensitive to the negative signals unilateral military action send to the people of Pakistan about our alliance.

America asks whether Pakistan is an ally and can be trusted. And of course, the same questions are being asked about the United States in Pakistan.

But let us remember that there is an elected democratic government steering the bilateral relationship on our side after a long period of dictatorships supported by Washington. A democratic Pakistan will always be aligned with the values and interests of the civilized world, and clearly with the free world's leader, the United States of America, even when there are differences on some issues from time to time as among all friends.

Pakistan has paid an enormous price in our fight against extremism and terrorism: 35,000 civilians killed, more Pakistani soldiers lost than all of NATO combined, 2,000 police dead, the assassination of our leader Benazir Bhutto and massive losses to our economy in investment, trade and infrastructure.

We appreciate America's help, but the notion that America has "given" Pakistan $20 billion since 9/11 needs to be seen in context. About $12 billion of this figure is Coalition Support Funds, reimbursements for expenses incurred by Pakistan in counterterrorism operations. They covered the cost of the fuel, ordinance, training and execution of counterterrorist operations.

The blood, sweat, effort, grit and guts are those of a Pakistan that bears the brunt of the battle against terrorism, a battle clearly in the national security interests of the United States.

Strains in relationships, whether in families or between nations, require work and time. Both sides can and should do better to lower the decibels and strengthen the bilateral bond. Misleading headlines and selective leaks should not permanently undermine our relationship.

There will be challenging days ahead, but the mutual benefit of our alliance cannot be overstated. As U.S. Adm. Mullen recently said to Congress: "If we walk away from it (the relationship with Pakistan), it will be a much more dangerous place a decade from now, and we'll be back."