Rupert Cornwell: These suspicious allies must worktogether, whether they like it or not

Related Topics

The diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and the US – testy and fraught with mutual suspicion – bears out as few others the dictum of Lord Palmerston's that countries have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.

Yesterday's release of Raymond Davis after "blood money" payments to the families of the victims reflects not a sudden flowering of mutual affection between the two governments but a shared understanding that a failure to resolve the case of the CIA operative would have been a disaster for both sides.

Whether they like it or not, the US and Pakistan are condemned to work together – or at least, to try to. Without the support of Washington, Pakistan would be more isolated than ever, and deprived of a major source of financial and military aid.

For the US, Pakistan is crucial to its geostrategic interests in the region. It is key to any hope of a lasting peace in Afghanistan, and its co-operation is vital if the US is to capture the al-Qa'ida leaders who have fled to Pakistan's remote tribal areas.

Its role as a nuclear power (and suspected nuclear proliferator), its links to Islamic extremism, its corrupt and fragile politics, all combine to make Pakistan one of the most dangerous places on earth. For all these reasons, the US could not ignore it, even if it wanted to. And so the relationship somehow staggers on, despite a level of mutual distrust that in other times and other circumstances would make them enemies.

Pakistan often feels humiliated, treated as a client state to whose sensibilities the US pays no heed, as it conducts cross-border raids and drone attacks on supposedly sovereign Pakistani soil, and deploys armed CIA operatives like Mr Davis inside the country, claiming they are above the local law.

It also feels betrayed. During the Cold War, the US was aligned with Pakistan as the Soviet Union courted its great rival, India. Now Washington is seeking to strengthen its ties with Delhi – and that tilt, Islamabad believes, can only be to the detriment of its ties with the US. Small wonder, therefore, that anti-Americanism is rife on the streets of Pakistan's cities.

America, for its part, has trouble believing a single word it hears from the Pakistani government and military. The latter promises co-operation, but offers succour and sanctuary to US foes in Afghanistan. Elements of Pakistan's powerful intelligence service are sympathetic to the Taliban, while Pakistan is emerging as a centre of Islamic terrorism in its own right. As for American aid, much is lost to corruption, while much US military assistance merely goes to beef up Pakistan's defences against India.

Two developments might place the relationship on a firmer footing. One is the inclusion of the Taliban in negotiations on the future of Afghanistan, which seems to be starting to happen. The other is a transformation of Pakistan's attitude to India, which is less likely. Failing both, the US/Pakistani relationship is likely to stagger on, from one crisis to another.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific