By Brian Katulis

Pakistan is currently not a reliable ally. But the United States and Pakistan need to continue working to bring our countries' policies toward closer alignment and investing in efforts to build stronger ties between our people. Pakistan is "too big to fail" and offers tremendous potential for playing a more constructive role in its region. Despite the rocky bilateral relations over the past year, the two countries need to work together to build a more stable foundation for the relationship.

Pakistan's policy approach has caused many in Washington to question whether the country even qualifies as an "ally" anymore. The problems are many: Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda militants had been able to remain secure in Pakistan's borders; an alphabet soup of terrorist groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which conducted the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, have used Pakistan as a base; the safe haven for Afghan Taliban in Pakistan is a main impediment to stability in Afghanistan. Moreover, members of Pakistan's security forces have killed U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Finally, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is the fasting-growing in the world, nearly doubling since 2007.

These are all factors contributing to negative feelings about Pakistan in the United States.

And those feelings are mutual.

On my most recent visit to Pakistan earlier this month, I witnessed firsthand the latest round of tensions between our two countries sparked by recent statements last month by now-retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen that Pakistan's security agencies were supporting Taliban insurgent groups that mount attacks against U.S., Afghan, and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. Throughout my visit, Express News 24/7, a television channel, had a melodramatic news promotion playing about every half hour in a continuous loop, with a booming voice stating -- "Pak-U.S. ties at lowest ever. U.S. levels allegations, hurls threats. Pakistan rejects charges. PMconvenes All Parties Conference. Politicians rise to the occasion. Nation unites." In my meetings with Pakistani officials and speaking engagements at universities and think tanks, I heard an endless stream of criticisms about U.S. policy -- CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, the violation of Pakistan's sovereignty in the May raid on bin Laden's compound, and the schizophrenia of Pakistan's views about whether U.S. troops should leave or stay in Afghanistan.

Despite all of these considerable problems, the United States needs to redouble its efforts to influence Pakistan to play a more constructive role as a regional leader. A sustainablepeace in Afghanistan is impossible without Pakistan. Terrorist groups have killed tens of thousands of innocent Pakistanis over the last decade, and this brutal campaign has turned millions against extremism in Pakistan, creating an opening to further marginalize militancy. Pakistan has a large and educated middle class, and if it addresses its internal political and economic challenges, the country could serve as a vital economic link between the countries if its region. For decades, Pakistanis have suffered from a leadership deficit in its government and a trust deficit with major powers around the world, including the United States. Pakistan today has an opportunity to become a positive leader in its region, and sustained U.S. engagement, as difficult as it seems, can help Pakistan address its many threats and challenges.


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