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Demise of U.S.–Pakistan relations is exaggerated — at least for now

Asif at a lectern
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri / AFP / Getty Images

U.S.–Pakistan relations got off to a rough start in 2018. President Trump rang in the new year with a harshly worded tweet accusing Pakistan of accepting American money without taking out the terrorists that attack American troops in Afghanistan. Several days later, the Trump administration announced the suspension of most security aid to Pakistan until those terrorists are targeted.

Pakistani officials excoriated Trump for his tweet. Pakistan's foreign minister declared that his country’s alliance with America was “over.” News reports revealed that Washington is working on ways to mitigate possible Pakistani retaliations to U.S. pressure.

Sound serious? Sure. Still, a reality check is in order.

Take the angry words with grains of salt. Both countries host elections this year, and the angry rhetoric is playing to galleries often hostile to the other country.

We’ve been here before. Washington has cut aid to Pakistan in the past, and the relationship has survived. And relations were even worse in 2011, when several crises
— including the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound — prompted Pakistan to close critical supply routes used by U.S. soldiers to access Afghanistan.

What's next: U.S.–Pakistan relations haven't yet entered uncharted territory. Will Washington take additional punitive measures beyond aid freezes in the coming weeks? And if so, how will Pakistan respond? Until we have answers, we can't safely forecast the fate of this ever-problematic partnership.

Michael Kugelman is deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.

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