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Distrust remains but U.S., Pakistan need each other

Monday - 8/8/2011, 8:19am  ET

Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani says both countries need each other. (WTOP/J.J. Green)

J.J. Green,

WASHINGTON - The chilly winds of distrust continue to rattle U.S. efforts to repair the damage created in the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

Complete restoration of relations may never happen.

"When the Americans come into Pakistan in a military fashion, unilaterally with guns blazing, essentially they are creating fear amongst the populous, which instead of looking upon them as friends starts being suspicious," says Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani.

"There are enough suspicions about the U.S. in Pakistan already," says Haqqani in an exclusive interview with WTOP.

"There is a lot of negativity, which the U.S. needs to fight to change public opinion and win over hearts and minds, but in a circumstance like that, to do something like this, results in more negativity."

The high-profile military operation that led to bin Laden's death infuriated many Pakistanis who were already seething over what's become known as the "Ray Davis" affair. Davis, a covert CIA employee, was arrested and charged with killing two armed men on Jan. 27.

According to Haqqani, that too was handled in a very careless manner by the U.S.

"Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in cold blood in the city of Lahore and another Pakistani was killed when a team that was trying to rescue him overran a bicyclist. So from the point of view of the people of Pakistan, this man just killed Pakistanis (and expected to be released because of his diplomatic status)," he says.

A high-ranking Pakistani defense official tells WTOP, "Had the U.S. told us of Davis' status in the beginning, the entire affair could have been resolved in a very short period of time."

But the official angrily says, "The arrogance of the U.S. wouldn't allow them to do so."

A U.S. official said at the time, "The fact of the matter is that Ray Davis was carrying a diplomatic passport when he was detained in Pakistan. He was therefore entitled to diplomatic immunity, and the Pakistanis should have acted immediately to honor that sacred principle of international law."

Davis was eventually released into U.S. custody after a financial settlement was paid to the victims' families.

History suggests that pragmatism has guided the U.S. view of it relationship with Pakistan since its inception. On and off support for Pakistan, dating back to the 1950s, has been the norm.

Haqqani acknowledges, however, that Pakistan bears as much blame as the U.S. for the recent souring of relations.

"Pakistan was one of three countries that recognized the Taliban regime. We did it because it was our neighbor. The fact that Pakistan was the staging ground for the global effort against communism when the soviets occupied Afghanistan and a lot of groups were created in Pakistan with American help, but that continued long after the U.S. withdrew from the region," he says.

The rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks gave U.S. intelligence officials pause because of the Pakistani government's role in creating the Taliban.

Haqqani says the distrust and suspicion have grown from there.

"There is no truth to the notion that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency leadership is split among western-leaning ideologues and Taliban sympathizers. Too many innocent Pakistanis have killed for that partition to prevail," says a Pakistani official with knowledge of intelligence matters.

While critical of the U.S. handling of certain elements of the relationship, Haqqani praises Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling her, "an American with an understanding of the world that is unusually brilliant. Her manner of conducting herself with foreign governments is one of engagement with the American interest being foremost, but an understanding of the others point of view."

WTOP asked the U.S. State Department to characterize the U.S.-Pakistan relationship since bin Laden's death. The request has not been answered.

A U.S. official familiar with the U.S.-Pakistan relationship tells WTOP, "The relationship is complicated -- it always has been -- and, admittedly, it has its ups and downs. Our nations continue to work together toward several common security goals, but we'd absolutely prefer a few more ups and a few less downs."

"The damage was serious -- no doubt about it," says former CIA officer and current Georgetown University Professor Paul Pillar.

"There almost certainly has been some negative effect on the productivity and effectiveness of this relationship. But the damage is not permanent. The United States and Pakistan, and more specifically the two (intelligence) services involved, are too important to each other to let the negative effects persist indefinitely," Pillar says.

But Pillar warns, "Drone strikes in Pakistan also will affect this. The more that there are civilian casualties and other sources of controversy in U.S.-Pakistani relations, the slower will be repair of the intelligence relationship."

Haqqani says, "Pakistanis continue to see America as a fickle ally -- Americans continue to doubt Pakistan's commitment in eliminating all forms of terrorism from our soil. But underneath it all there is also recognition that both countries need each other."

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)