Analysis: What will Washington do next?

Published: September 26, 2011

Both allies seem to be playing a zero-sum game with no indication of either side having done any serious calculation about how and when they intend to cap their hostility. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Relations between Pakistan and the United States have now plunged to their lowest point – from where many fear it could escalate into a direct military conflict between the two allies. Although this is not the first time that bilateral relations have nosedived, the rise in temperature on both sides is immeasurably higher.

From the American side, it is the first time since the start of the war on terror that Washington has gone beyond accusing Islamabad of not doing more.

(Read: With us or against us? A decade on, Pakistan is wavering)

This time around, the White House, State Department and Pentagon seem to be acting in unison when pointing a finger at Pakistan for supporting the Haqqani network and the country’s Inter Services Intelligence of conspiring with the Taliban to attack the US Embassy in Kabul.

Similarly, it seems to have brought the political and military stakeholders in Pakistan closer and elicited a joint response from them on the American attitude and hostility. Both allies seem to be playing a zero-sum game with no indication of either side having done any serious calculation about how and when they intend to cap their hostility. There is no disclosure about Washington sharing concrete evidence with Islamabad regarding the ISI-Haqqani network collusion in the Kabul attack, despite General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s recent visits to the US or American generals’ tours of Pakistan. But clearly there seems to be a consensus in Washington about ratcheting up the pressure on Pakistan for the latter to agree to fight Sirajuddin Haqqani and his allies who are seen as a major problem for Nato forces, especially in the wake of the diminishing powers of al Qaeda. However, it is not clear as to what Washington will do next in terms of teaching Pakistan a lesson. Several analysts have talked about several options including a surgical strike in Pakistan a la May 2nd or increasing drone strikes – even extending these beyond agreed upon lines in North Waziristan. The risk with all of this is that the GHQ may feel itself pressured to respond.

Pakistan’s strategy, thus far, seems to be based on two trajectories: convince the US to negotiate with the Taliban and project the anti-US public opinion as the main hindrance against any policy changes that may look like accommodating Washington. This also means that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and his team may not have left much room to themselves to manoeuvre out of a tight corner but to respond to any possible intensity in conflict by American forces. Will a Pakistani reaction result in a higher-counteroffensive by Washington? Or, will there be economic sanctions against Pakistan that are bound to exacerbate the problems that the country already faces? Though one hears echoes of building up relations with China even further, there doesn’t appear to be any surety whether Beijing will agree to totally replace the US or gradually turn Pakistan into something similar to Burma, Cambodia and other Asian allies?

Extremely unnerving is the showboating between the US and Pakistan through the media which has heated up the atmosphere to a point where withdrawal could become difficult. Perhaps stepping back has already become an issue — given the fact that non-state actors are also party to the conflict. One possibility is for the US to include Pakistan directly in the Afghanistan endgame, giving it responsibility to control all sorts of non-state actors which may not be a simple task in itself.

(Read: After the endgame)

But what is clear is that this heightened tension indicates a risky game for the two countries to maximise their gains in determining not only Afghanistan’s future but also the share in the spoils of either state. Irrespective of what is finally decided, the current tension has a heavy cost in terms of setting the tenor of Pakistan’s society.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (43)

  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 26, 2011 - 7:47AM

    The best option is to use Russia and India to warm up with Iran. If US can ensure supplies from Iran then Pakistan will become a sitting duck. However this is easier said than done. There will be hard bargain by Iran for political, economic and nuclear reasons. If USA would allow Iran to trade freely with itself, EU,India and Japan including some technology transfers and offer to strengthen them vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia i think this deal is possible. Iran does not need money like Pakistan. It needs technology, market for trade and investment and a regional profile vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia in the middle east. If Iran comes to join the US which i think they will like to given an honourable entry China is sure to abandon Pakistan. For Pakistan i must say this is a very dangerous game that you have got yourself into. Pakistan is too small and too weak to even comprehend the ramifications of this confrontation. But now that you are in, you are in God’s Hand.

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  • Sep 26, 2011 - 7:52AM

    Their economy is tanking and most favorite way to revive is to start a war. Read this piece ‘America’s Outrageous War Economy!’
    Pentagon can’t find $2.3 trillion, wasting trillions on ‘national defense’
    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-we-love-americas-outrageous

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  • Maxwell
    Sep 26, 2011 - 7:53AM

    Well described scenario really….I guess, you are leaving one of the possibilities here that was briefly discussed on a tv channel in Pakistan and I found it fascinating and plausible. Person who spoke of such possiblity was a Pakistani analyst based in US. His idea was that all this might just be a show and understanding between Pakistan and USA govt to create a situation in which US can directly take action in N Waziristan and Pakistan can make a lot of hue and cry and blame US for doing so and curse it publicly…Because Pak army does not want to take direct action in N Waziristan as it could involve repercussions back home but in such a scenario, it can hold its relations with other side, that is Haqqani network and can bring them into game later on when things subsidize…

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  • Was A Pakistani
    Sep 26, 2011 - 8:10AM

    @Moise:
    Well if this is the case then we are really assisting the US through Recommend

  • H Q
    Sep 26, 2011 - 8:25AM

    @ Straight_talk: US couldn’t stand a rag tag force of 60,000 Taliban. What makes you think Pakistan is too small to confront the US at its own turf?

    When a nation is united against an enemy, not even a super power can defeat them. It might take time and some more additionally sacrifices, but then again, its going to bear fruit in the form of peace for several decades with the end of American hegemony in the region.

    Before the US invaded Afghanistan, the whole region was peaceful. US wanted an adventure in the region for various ulterior objectives, to which they made OBL an obvious reason. their adventure has taken several wrong turns over the past 10 years and they need an exit. US is now like an injured dog, that will bite anyone it sees as a threat.Recommend

  • khan
    Sep 26, 2011 - 8:35AM

    Who has been (for the pas several years) pulling media and political strings from behind the scene to ratchet up anti-US hysteria?

    What a web we spin. In the end I hope we don’t end up trapping ourselves instead.Recommend

  • BruteForce
    Sep 26, 2011 - 8:37AM

    Covert sanctions are the way to go. Lets say WB and IMF decide against giving loans to Pakistan all of a sudden!

    After sometime US may block all Pakistani imports! There is no matching move Pakistan can make, can it. The Media in Pakistan will also have to swallow it. It cant ask China to import more, China is an exporter nation and hardly imports anything other than oil and Pakistan doesn’t have that either.

    The US will squeeze the Pakistani economy till 2014. There is very little what countries like China can do about it. It is not able to act in the cases of North Korea, Burma or Cambodia, as the Author has pointed out, and so it cannot act in the case of Pakistan.

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  • harkol
    Sep 26, 2011 - 9:07AM

    Moise: USA will have an economic decline, but don’t forget – after more than a decade of stagflation, Japan is still the second largest $ economy in the world. US is still 5 times as bigger than China, and US per capita is 8-10 times as larger than China.

    For China or India to catch up with US per capita will take much over 50 years. And what that means is the war waging capability of US is unlikely to go down anytime soon.

    US economy is not on the decline – It is just not growing as rapidly as it used to, where as other nations, like India, Russia, China are reclaiming their traditional GDP share. USA is also far more willing to fight a war, and that will continue for a while to come.

    So, confronting USA will not be a good idea. China or any other country will not be able to rescue Pakistan if USA should decide to make an example of it.Recommend

  • Hasan
    Sep 26, 2011 - 10:10AM

    @H Q:
    Please consider the military might of the US before making dubious assertions as to the success or otherwise of a military confrontation with Pakistan. If the US had so decided, it could have carried out unabated aerial bombing of strategic locations within Afghanistan without the need for ground troops. Such a strategy would have saved enormous economic and human resources, BUT would have come at the cost of substantial loss of life. As for Pakistan, there would be little or no need to send in large numbers of ground troops for what would be a viewed by commentators as a very short-term aerial campaign.

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  • Pundit
    Sep 26, 2011 - 10:24AM

    a Poster wrote” a titanic called Pakistan”
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  • Sep 26, 2011 - 11:23AM

    @Was A Pakistani:
    Yes, we did. Not anymore.

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  • Sep 26, 2011 - 11:24AM

    @harkol:
    Just wait for few years, you will be surprised how world and most of the things in it will be changing.

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 26, 2011 - 11:29AM

    @H Q:
    My friend you seem to only see this as an alternative between win and defeat. This is not about Pakistan any more. USA is located on the other side of the globe. It has bases all over the middle east and also in central asia and Afghanistan and Indian Ocean. You can fight on and on and still there may be no end to this war. They also surely do not need to defeat and occupy Pakistan. They are worried about your Chinese drift because China is about to challenge their world order. Pakistan need not have got into all these in the first place. See how China conducts itself. They have not committed anything concrete to you and still you have almost jumped in to fight there war. All USA seeks from Pakistan is to fall in line because you have hurt their superpower ego. Lets put it in this way. Eventually there has to happen a showdown between China and the US. Due to the myopia of you leadership Pakistan seems to be becoming the battleground of the showdown. You have very less to gain out of this and can even loose almost everything. The country that is enjoying these events the most is China. They have nothing to loose and everything to gain. Think about it.

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  • Sep 26, 2011 - 11:34AM

    Fact 1 – US will not attack Pakistan. It cannot afford so, and I mean financially here.
    Fact 2 – Pak Army cannot fight the Americans – not that they are cowards or anything rather they cant match the technology.
    Fact 3 – They wont attack mainland Pakistan rather NW, lets say, and that too unless and until they have precise info, they wont land their troops on ground. Gorilla warfare, if ensued, is not even for the superpowers to handle. Drones are much better.
    Fact 4 – Its all sabre rattling. Indians and the Pakistani media can chill.

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 26, 2011 - 11:34AM

    @Pundit: Very likely to become true now.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Sep 26, 2011 - 12:00PM

    The Americans are going to tighten the noose slowly for the next few months and force Pakistan into submission.

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  • Sad but true
    Sep 26, 2011 - 12:08PM

    @Moise: It will be really nice if you would also write about Pakistan’s economy.

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  • A H Nayyar
    Sep 26, 2011 - 12:44PM

    If the US accusation of ISI complicity in attack on US targets in Kabul is strongly supported by evidence, and it seems it is so otherwise the American civil and military leadership would not have brought in this new element into the equation, then the obvious next move from the USA will be to declare ISI a rogue and terrorist organisation, demand that Pakistan government disband it and prove by action that it is working to physically eliminate this and other terrorist organisations. The latter would rrequire taking action against the Taliban, especially Haqqanis, and the plethora of Lashkars, Hizbs and Harkats also. The US action is liekly to be strongly supported by several European countries and India. In case Pakistan refuses to do so, or even shows reluctance, USA can take the matter to the UN Security Council to have Pakistan declared a supporter of terrorism, and hence liable to be sanctioned in various ways. The only hope for Pakistan will be a Chinese veto on the grounds that the suggested action does not serve the purpose, but rather exacerbates the problem both for the region as well for the world. It is quite likely that the US will work on China in advance to get its abstention.

    Thus the USA does not need to put its boots on the Pakistani soil to devastate it.

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  • jerry
    Sep 26, 2011 - 12:54PM

    Destruction
    Afghanistan / Iraq / Lybia / Syria / N. Korea / Pakistan !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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  • A J Khan
    Sep 26, 2011 - 12:55PM

    People in USA are weary of the Afghan War. So are the Afghans and Pakistanis. USA and its allies have bombed Afghanistan so much that there is nothing left to destroy. So the threat of destruction no more exists for the Afghan people.
    What is the purpose of present escalation. Does USA wants to continue with the War. Probably NO, but it wants to end it on its own terms. That is slightly difficult because Taliban have not been eliminated. They still exist and are willing to continue the war.
    So what are the options with USA. Can they trust the present Afghan Government with safe guarding their interests. The answer is no because it does not represent the most populous and powerful faction of Pashtuns.
    Can Iran, Turkey, The central Asian republics or the Russia do it for them. The answer is again no. They will not act as pawns as did Pakistan which tried to gain favor of USA and destroyed itself in the process.
    Pakistan has a lot of stakes in Afghanistan, because every time there is a problem there, Pakistan receives millions of Afghan Refugees who become a drain on the fragile economy of Pakistan. These refugees does no go to USA, India or for that matter to any other western countries.
    USA wants to outsource war to Pakistan and Pakistan is not ready to do that because it has suffered physically, politically, economically and militarily so much that it has no more appetite for more violence. The threats will evaporate in thin air and old friends will mellow downRecommend

  • Bilal
    Sep 26, 2011 - 12:56PM

    The state of affairs between the two countries simply goes to show the level of confusion between how to handle inter-relations. On the US side, the frustration of losing the war and lack of face saving withdrawal opportunities have escalated this accusation game. On the side of Pakistan, while it were reluctant a partner in this, it has suffered a lot in terms of economy, political system and social setup. Pakistan has lost more people in this war than any of US’s allies combined. And still US believes this isn’t enough.
    If only the Pakistani policy makers could manage to fix the economy, they would’ve had more leverage to negotiate on political turf.
    US intention to attack Pakistan would be a grave mistake not because former would not achieve its purpose, but simply because Pakistan as a country is too strategically important to move to the other side. Even now, majority polls show that Pakistanis consider US to be on a hidden agenda. Any such rash action would divide the equation with the lowest common divisor. Implying that US and India would be considered as allies and the intervention could very well spark a full fledged war with India. One cannot imagine the result of a destablized south asia. And we’re not talking about guerilla wars here, we apprehensive of a possible nuclear war. It would not only be preposterous but also evil to be attacking Pakistan. No one would be able to close the flood gates and we’re seeing at least 2 decades of war in the region.

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  • pervaiz memon
    Sep 26, 2011 - 1:09PM

    i think we are only talking tense impact on Pakistan what price usa will pay if this tense is convert in conflict specially 1 lack fifty thousand soldier sitting in Afghanistan . One thing is sure Usa will not finish our nation . Recommend

  • CommonSense
    Sep 26, 2011 - 1:10PM

    The US is a playing a dual game of wanting to continue peace talks with Taliban as well as fight them. At some point they need to pick a side and stick with it within a timetable. I think Pakistan has done enough, has paid the cost in blood and money,risked its civilians and economy for the past decade and is now war weary. I think the army has smartened up and decided to just stand by and watch while the US runs around like a headless chicken in Afghanistan.Recommend

  • Saddique
    Sep 26, 2011 - 1:12PM

    @Straight_Talk:

    You have no idea about the region specially Iran, Iran never even spit on USA. Get up from day dream.

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  • P N Eswaran
    Sep 26, 2011 - 1:46PM

    “But what is clear is that this heightened tension indicates a risky game”. Pakistan now knows that their game has ended. They will go after Haqqani network just as they agreed to drone strikes.Recommend

  • P N Eswaran
    Sep 26, 2011 - 2:03PM

    @Maxwell:
    I think this not likely because the US can any time go against the network. They want it done with Pakistani hands so that the nexus is broken. Sirajuddin Haqqani has stated that they do not require Pakistan’s sanctuary as they are comfortably relocated in Afghanistan. The implication of this statement needs to be studied.

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  • Zain
    Sep 26, 2011 - 2:12PM

    Yes it’s sad to see the low level of communications, in Pak-US this must improve soon, however China has strongly warned US that Pakistan is V Imp to China like Israel is to US and was said few months back by the Chairman of China ruling party, and we know that China owns most of US debt and if they may call in US debt, or decide to dump it in world market, this will be the end of the US economy, if things don’t improve with both countries.
    However Pak-US talks needs a better level of persons at the highest level from the citizens of each country, from both sides. Talking to each other on a daily basis and the proper forum should be set up for this, to allow this forum to keep Pak-US relations on a positive track. And the US must give space to Pakistan to grow in to a safe, positive country which will be in the best interest of the entire region and the world. As it is been the US that has created the unrest in Afghanistan since the last 40 years with US-USSR & (India supported) conflict in Afghanistan, in which millions of americans were killed, by USSR & India. This has been a constant burden of problems for Pakistan, and in light of all the access and support Pakistan provided US in last 40 years,, the level of respect needs to be much more mature and supportive for Pakistan. Rather than this approach which looks like its been put together with some childish advisors, who are anti US & Pakistan and the region.
    Or the US should just do it alone in Afghanistan and any other place where UN can give it mandate, and leave all this peaceful region, is in best interest of Asia and the debt ridden 18 trillion US and world.

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  • CommonSense
    Sep 26, 2011 - 2:17PM

    @Straight_Talk
    Your rationale is all the more reason why Pakistan should ditch the Yanks and pick up Chopsticks instead. If there is indeed an imminent showdown about to take place between US and China, then it would really be stupid to mess with our neighbors by siding with the US, whilst already being sandwiched between two hostile neighbors. Lets not forget the US openly favors India and panders to its every whim, so we are really not going to be stupid this time.

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  • romm
    Sep 26, 2011 - 3:46PM

    simple questionS
    (1)CAN USA AFFORD STARTING A NEW WAR IN REGION WHERE HE HAS ALREADY LOST ONE????????
    (2) HAS THERE BEEN ANY INVASION OF TERITORY OF NUCLEAR ARMED COUNTRY IN MODERN HISTORY????
    I request sensible arguements

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 26, 2011 - 5:14PM

    @CommonSense: China has never asked pakistan to make an either or between itself and the US in your policy decisions. USA is a big power , very big compared to Pakistan and it is insecure about it future dominance in the world order. In the name of defying the US and trying to force your way into the Afghan endgame you have perhaps already made yourself the main battlefield for the decision on the next world order. This is not about Pakistan any more. The question that you have effectively raised now is whether US will prevail or fizz out in the immediate future. This i think is foolish to do. To effectively remain a superpower from here on US will have to subdue you convincingly and demonstratively now. This is about superpower ego and you are on the wrong side of it. So the way i see this your leadership has failed you cruelly.

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  • Sundeep
    Sep 26, 2011 - 5:18PM

    I think a little dose of economics are in order.

    Pakistani military budget is about $6,5 billion dollars ( Well I am being generous here). American defense budget is whopping $650 billion dollars a year. That is more than combined total next military budgets of next 50 countries put together. It is also more than 3 times your entire GDP.

    I guess all they need is some $10 billion dollars armory to neutralize all your offences. No need for boots on the ground till then. I am finding it funny how much Pakistanis believe in self grandiose.

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  • Amer Khan
    Sep 26, 2011 - 5:32PM

    @Straight-Talk
    No idea of the region man, there are forces like China, Saudi, Russia, PK and even Iran now clubbing together to give a hard fight to the US in this Afghanistan end game. US will loose out at the end, better for them to think long term and strategic and not make another case for them which is worse than Vietnam. Unfortunately, I think they are now heading for that….

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  • Pundit
    Sep 26, 2011 - 5:48PM

    @Sundeep: Sensible comment !

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 26, 2011 - 6:00PM

    @Saddique: You are welcome to have and express your views but my understanding of politics says nobody is an untouchable and the only criteria for decision-making is self-interest. For a change do you know that the Iranian President recently said that ” Its not too late to fix US ties” while in US for the UNGA speech. As much predictable his line of speech was this comment cannot be called nothing. So i say again it is possible for better US-Iran ties to see the light of the for that can be one option for the US in the present scenario.

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 26, 2011 - 6:20PM

    @Amer Khan: You think politics is based on fixed blocking of nations but i do not. Emotions are not the guiding force of politics, self-interests are. Iran is a cornered nation. It needs markets to sell and technologies to buy. It has its ambitions. Access to US, EU, India, Japan and ASEAN markets has to be more important for Iran than Anti-americanism per say. Iran has its terms of engagement on which it has to be accommodated. Its a case for diplomacy and negotiation. In any case anti-americanism as a policy is passe man. It has out-leaved it romantic past.

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  • CommonSense
    Sep 26, 2011 - 6:34PM

    @Straight_Talk
    Please go troll somewhere else because you seem to be delusional and stuck in the 90′s when it comes to your country’s status as a superpower, especially since you have been struggling to take a bunch of bearded bandits who have been using nothing more than make-shift IEDs and rusty weapons for the past one decade. And then theres your Iraq misadventure too. If you guys put aside your bravado and patriotic pom-poms you will be able to to come up with some more reasonable policies for yourself and the region. What use have your web of bases around the region besides entangling you into more violence and bloodshed. Forget Pakistan, you guys cant even seem to scare Iran, which is alot more openly hostile towards you than Pakistan.Recommend

  • Aamir
    Sep 26, 2011 - 8:16PM

    @Common Sense
    Pakistan is helpless against terrorists who attack it everyday and you are taunting the US ?

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 26, 2011 - 9:50PM

    @CommonSense: This time you seem to be just an extension of a good old propaganda machine. This is like those Chinese propaganda machinery that failed to make a devil out of His Holiness The Dalai Lama in 50 long years. I would like to quote Abraham Lincoln here for a reply. He once said ” You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time “.

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  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Sep 27, 2011 - 1:33AM

    What will Washington do next???? Ans: Washington will accept heartfelt apology from us and we will assure them of our cooperation as Most Obedient Servants. Trained Parrots in the media will also start working in the same pay scale and perks. Nothing will happen folks. Both are showing their rights and hitting with the left. No tensions……

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  • narayana murthy
    Sep 27, 2011 - 5:01PM

    @Zain who says “China has strongly warned US that Pakistan is V Imp to China like Israel is to US”

    I have no idea how Israel and Pakistan be compared when it comes to USA and China.

    There are millions of very successful Jews in USA contributing immensely to USA’s growth. These Jews have a strong bond with Israel.

    Can you say the same about Pakistani Muslims or Muslims in China?

    China needs Pakistan to keep pricking India. That’s it.

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  • let there be peace
    Sep 28, 2011 - 12:15AM

    @CommonSense:
    I think Pakistan has done enough, has paid the cost in blood and money
    Pakistan has only played games. If Pakistan has really honestly acted against terrorists so far, why suddenly is it refusing to take action in Waziristan?

    Pakistan should ditch the Yanks and pick up Chopsticks instead.
    Sure do it at your own risk. Why is Pakistan always volunteering to act as a pon in games between outside powers?

    ..CommonSense

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  • Sep 29, 2011 - 8:35PM

    @harkol:
    Someone is checking the government stats I guess. Check the Shadow Stats site, it tells a very different story.

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  • Sep 29, 2011 - 8:37PM

    @Sad but true:
    Tough times for Pakistan economy right now and next year. After that things are looking promising.

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