The U.S. and Pakistan have enjoyed an on-again, off-again relationship for years. Ambassadors Howard Schaffer and Teresita Schaffer describe the relationship in their latest USIP Press book “How Pakistan Negotiates with the United States: Riding the Roller Coaster.”

April 13, 2011

U.S.-PAKISTANI RELATIONS: A WORK IN PROGRESS – The U.S. and Pakistan have enjoyed an on-again, off-again relationship for years, a “roller coaster” if you ask former Ambassadors Howard Schaffer and Teresita Schaffer who launched their new book “How Pakistan Negotiates with the United States: Riding the Roller Coaster” at USIP April 12. Volatility describes the relationship: Howard Schaffer said that an alternative to their book’s subtitle was “Three Marriages and Two Divorces.” 

HIGHS AND LOWS – Indeed, over the past 60 years, Pakistan-U.S. relations have been marked by highs of close cooperation and lows of deep bilateral estrangement,” states the USIP invite for the event. “Recent events and negotiations underscore the remarkable resilience but also the vulnerability and volatility of the relationship.”

THAT RELATIONSHIP: IN CRISIS? – The New York Times reports that Pakistan wants the U.S. to reduce significantly the number of CIA operatives and U.S. military Special Forces personnel operating inside Pakistan, and for the CIA to cease drone attacks on militants in northwest Pakistan. “The request was a sign of the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies,” wrote the NYT’s Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan April 11. The news makes the Schaffers’ new book all the more relevant – an inside look at how Pakistan negotiates with the U.S. over just this kind of episode.

THE PAKISTANI “GUILT TRIP” – So much of the U.S.-Pakistani negotiating relationship is driven by the emotional and political baggage from both sides over the years. But recognizing, as American officials often do, that the U.S. can be a fair-weather friend, the Pakistanis have become adept at “cultivating the art of the guilt trip,” says Teresita Schaffer. “This happens in large ways and small ways…” From the Schaffers’ book, in a section titled “Who Needs Whom?,” the authors suggest the Pakistanis sometimes overplay the guilt card: “…at key points in U.S.-Pakistan relations, Pakistan has been convinced that the United States needs it more than the reverse. This has a profound impact on the negotiating dynamic,” they write.

CHINA: AN “ALL-WEATHER FRIEND” – The Schaffers discuss in their book the Pakistani-Chinese relationship. “China heads the list of reliable friends, as Pakistani leaders and officials see it, and plays several roles in Pakistan’s approach to negotiating with the United States,” the authors wrote.

HOW TO HAVE A SUSTAINED RELATIONSHIP –“You have to have a sustained engagement to bring about more transparency in the relationship,” USIP’s Moeed Yusuf said after the event. 

THE U.S., PAKISTAN AND A KLEENEX – Howard Schaffer told the group April 12 that a Pakistani once told him that Pakistanis think the U.S. “discards Pakistan like a used Kleenex.”

THE U.S. GOES TO THE MILITARY WELL TOO OFTEN – So says Howard Schaffer, who thinks the U.S. needs to spend more time publicly supporting civilian political leaders in Pakistan and not always see the Pakistani military as the only “can do” arm of the country. He believes that whenever the U.S. needs something, there is “always a tendency… to look to the military.” But that ignores the civilian leadership that, however flawed, can’t be ignored. “It’s important that the United States must do what it can to foster stronger civilian political institutions,” Howard Schaffer says. “We talk a lot about them, but we have to play a better game than we do.”

USIP’s MOEED YUSUF ON TODAY’S CRISIS –Media reports indicate that Pakistan, angry over the incident in which Raymond Davis, reportedly a CIA contractor, shot and killed two men in January whom he thought were robbing him. USIP’s Yusuf thinks the relationship is at another critical point. “I think it’s out of control,” Yusuf says of the relationship. “I think both sides believe they can’t rupture the relationship, so they have to do a lot of damage control to get this back on track.”

FROM “CRISIS TO CRISIS” – There’s hope, despite all the history, that the U.S. is in the relationship for the long-haul and that it can move beyond the “transactional relationship” Pakistan perceives the relationship to be. Still, for now, it seems only to move “from crisis to crisis,” says Yusuf.

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