The U.S. had tended to back Pakistan against India during the Cold War, but has since moved toward taking a more neutral stance on the subcontinent’s long-raging conflict. So when Pakistan sent a guerrilla force to occupy territory on the Indian side of the disputed border earlier this year, Washington joined Beijing –- Islamabad’s other key ally –- in demanding Pakistan’s withdrawal. And that left Nawaz to face the music back home. While calls for his ouster are mounting, Washington wants Pakistan’s constitution respected. And experience has made U.S. diplomats more inclined to spell out their positions –- after all, it was in the belief that Washington would remain neutral that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and started the Gulf War.
There is no man behind the curtain, OK? The U.S. took the extraordinary step Tuesday of announcing that it strongly opposes any coup attempt in Pakistan, just in case any one thought Washington might acquiesce in the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. "Nawaz has been under tremendous political pressure ever since Pakistan was forced to withdraw from the Kargil region of Kashmir," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. "There was a lot of anger in the military at being ordered to withdraw, and it’s all being directed at the prime minister. Even though the military has undertaken in recent years not to intervene in politics, it might seek to play a behind-the-scenes role in a change of leadership, even within Nawaz’s own party."