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Tensions Mount, but the US and Pakistan Are Stuck With Each Other




Pakistani patients affected with dengue fever lie on beds in a ward at the hospital in Lahore on September 7, 2011. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani patients affected with dengue fever lie on beds in a ward at the hospital in Lahore on September 7, 2011. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan appear to be increasing with every new statement by officials on either side. The media in both countries, with few exceptions, are also hurling accusations and supporting their respective state apparatus. Interestingly, Washington and Islamabad keep reiterating that both countries and their common fight against terror are important to each other — and yet relations are deteriorating.

Major cities in Pakistan are facing 12 to 14 hours of electricity outages daily, industry is at a standstill because of the power crisis, there are no jobs, two huge floods in two years have destroyed large swathes of agricultural land and infrastructure, more than 35,000 people have been killed in terror-related incidents — with many more injured or displaced because of the ongoing fight on terror — and as we speak, hundreds are falling victim to a dengue epidemic in the most populated province of the country. People feel that the government and military establishments are only interested in the war on terror and have no economic and social plan or concern for the public. They have little patience with the government and even less with U.S. demands to "do more."

Washington, on the other hand, faced with an ever-increasing deficit and chronic unemployment, is finding it difficult to justify to its people its huge expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the political side, Pakistan wants to be in the loop in the post-exit strategy of Afghanistan. Islamabad is very unhappy at the growing presence of India in Afghanistan and feels that once the U.S. leaves, it will have hostile neighbors on both its eastern and western borders. The Karzai government — weak and beset with corruption, human rights abuses and looking for props in case the U.S. leaves — finds it easy to blame Pakistan for all its problems.

Having said that, the U.S. and Pakistan need to work with each other. The U.S. needs to get out of Afghanistan, and Pakistan needs to work on its economic issues — and both have to fight terror together.

Ayesha Haroon is an Asia Society Associate Fellow and the editor of Lahore-based Pakistani newspaper The News International.

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