Ten years into the war on terrorism, Washington has at last embraced the real limits of U.S.-Pakistan coordination. That is, the U.S. understands that Pakistan will continue to support militants in India and Afghanistan as a means of accomplishing its foreign policy goals, and there's little the U.S. can do about it.
This sober appraisal was not always accepted. Early in the war, Pakistan was praised for its indispensable assistance likely because the cooperation centered on a common foe: al-Qaeda. But as Pakistan watched the U.S. grow closer to India not just passing the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal but also encouraging India's presence in Afghanistan it concluded that its interests and those of the U.S. were on a collision course.
In part because of that realization, Pakistan supported the Taliban's newly invigorated insurgency in Afghanistan. The Americans, however, resisted putting pressure on Pakistan for fear of compromising cooperation against al-Qaeda. Thus an ironic equilibrium was established: Pakistan received increasing financial "rewards" for its support of the global war on terrorism while it subsidized the very groups killing thousands of Americans and allies in Afghanistan.
With the American endgame in Afghanistan looming, U.S. officials can no longer ignore this duplicity. Pakistan's influence over the Afghan Taliban and other allies like the Haqqani network is a key obstacle to Afghans' being able to secure their country themselves. What is becoming increasingly clear is that a strategic relationship is not possible when strategic interests diverge so starkly. Observers on both sides are quietly asking whether the other is a problematic partner, an outright foe or both.
Fair is an assistant professor at Georgetown University's security-studies program