ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 3 (UPI) -- The still-deteriorating Pakistan-U.S. relationship is setting off new alarm bells.
The diminishing breed of America's friends in Pakistan, a nuclear power of 180 million people, are urging the Obama administration to fully engage Islamabad in the quest for a final settlement of the Afghan war -- with or without Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Without Pakistan's real -- as opposed to lip service -- support, the future will remain obscured by extremist forces working against any kind of relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The United States is convinced militant extremists jeopardize the stability of a nuclear Pakistan, thus posing a direct threat to the United States and its allies. But an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis say the United States is against their country's nuclear program, a bias shared with India and Israel. It is imperative, therefore, for the United States to make clear that one critically important reason to settle the Afghan war is to save a nuclear Pakistan from self-destruction.
America's long-term relationship with Pakistan is only sustainable if Islamabad takes draconian action against all terrorist organizations that operate on its territory. And unless Pakistan does that, the United States will continue to kill the terrorists that endanger U.S. and NATO interests from its territory.
Clearly, this is also critically important to avert the kind of chaos that would jeopardize the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
These objectives are best achieved through a strategic partnership with a stable Pakistan. But the challenge of fighting terrorist networks is compounded by the fact that Pakistan draws distinctions between "friendly" and hostile groups of killers.
Pakistan also faces enormous new stresses on the state and its body politic.
Five key reasons to continue the U.S.-Pakistan marriage of convenience:
1. Pakistan needs U.S. aid to support its fragile economy, which has been on the verge of collapse due to the war on terror, costing so far $68 billion. Islamabad cannot afford tense relations with the United States.
2. Pakistan is utterly dependent on U.S. technology and spare parts. Alternative alliances with China or Russia aside, Muslim Pakistan, if bullied long enough by its Western mentors, could turn into a different breed of political animal.
3. The future paradigm is not another Indonesia or Malaysia. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
4. The United States needs Pakistani supply routes to win the Afghan war. More than 40 percent of NATO's Afghan supplies pass through Pakistan. Islamabad mistakenly believes that to secure its strategic interests, the United States cannot afford to see the two Pakistan routes closed permanently. In reality, much of the slack has been taken up by Russia and some of the 'Stans on the (Northern Distribution Network.
5. The United States cannot afford to see Pakistan crumbling, as this would give Taliban and its terrorist network a chance to seize control of some of Pakistan's nukes.
In Afghanistan, the United States seeks to prevent the country from becoming a permanent terrorist base. A return to civil war there, as it experienced before Mullah Omar and his guerrillas fought their way to power in Kabul in 1996, would destabilize the entire region.
Afghanistan faces the twin challenges of endemic corruption and weak, dysfunctional governance.
Advice to the United States for Pakistan:
-- To further improve Pak-U.S. relations, Washington should increase assistance with a view to helping the government curb militants decisively.
-- To strengthen U.S.-Pak ties and play a key role in Pakistan's economic stability, the Obama administration needs to be creative and offer free trade, civilian nuclear deals, coupled with congressional endorsement of an agreement that would grant preferential market access to Pakistan products.
-- As a closer partnership with Islamabad develops, the United States still needs to seek Pakistani strategic control over militancy, which many experts in Washington say is a Pakistani foreign policy tool. U.S. partnership and assistance depend on action against the Pakistan-based terror nexus.
Advice to the United States for Afghanistan:
-- U.S. security plans can best be implemented and at a lower cost if the United States manages to shift greater responsibility to its Afghan partners.
-- Political reform should aim to grant a greater voice to other Afghan interests, rather than leaving the reunion process to Karzai and his thin support base. Political reform, national reconciliation and regional harmony are interlinked.
-- The United States should encourage the Afghan private sector in the nation-building process that requires a self-sustaining foundation for generating jobs and revenue that will reduce dependence on international assistance.
Any idea of the United States and Pakistan breaking off ties is absurd. It is important to note that China and Russia have backed Pakistan in its recent disputes with the United States. But there is really no credible alternative to the United States, provided of course, those new terms of engagement leave no doubt or ambiguity. Without Pakistani approval and cooperation, air raids or any ground operation from the U.S./NATO forces inside Pakistan would inflict "huge collateral damage."
Recent deadly clashes between Pakistani security forces and militants of Lashkar-e-Islam in the most strategically located part of Pakistan's tribal areas, the Khyber Agency, are a potential nightmare. This agency is a 10-minute drive from Peshawar. And NATO supplies -- if and when that route reopens -- will remain heavily dependent upon total Pak control of the Khyber Agency.
Last week, U.S. Central Command commander U.S. Marines Corps Gen. James Mattis and Afghan NATO theater commander U.S. Marines Corps Gen. John Allen met in Rawalpindi, the military garrison city adjoining Islamabad, with Pakistani supremo Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani – the first high-level military meeting between the two sides since U.S. airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
It was a major step forward. But the U.S. Congress remains the key player. And only a handful understands the need to resume aid in return for opening supply lines from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
(Ammar Turabi and UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave conducted the first and only interview with Taliban chief Mullah Omar in Kandahar, June 4, 2001, three months before 9/11).
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)