Since Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistani generals have been consumed with rage.
U.S. officials don't believe the top Pakistani brass knew bin Laden was there. But the fact that the Americans carried off the raid without Pakistan's knowledge has humiliated the military and angered its public, to the point where essential military cooperation is in jeopardy.
So Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a sudden, unannounced trip to Islamabad recently to try to salvage a relationship with a country whose cooperation is vital for a decent end to the war in Afghanistan.
Yet, as a tense Clinton made clear at a news conference, unless the two sides can be more candid in private and in public, this crucial relationship will fail.
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Despite a degree of military and intelligence cooperation, neither side has ever fully trusted the other and deep resentments festered. Pakistan blamed America for botching the Afghan war, which pushed Taliban groups into its tribal areas and helped fuel militancy there. The United States blamed Pakistan for providing sanctuary for Afghan Taliban commanders and letting the militants cross back to kill Afghans and U.S. troops.
Neither side wanted to confront the other openly. The Americans didn't want to anger the Pakistanis, whose territory provides the main supply route for our troops in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis didn't want to bite (at least too deeply) the hand that funds their army.
Clinton, speaking firmly, made clear that the era of evasiveness had to end.
One way to start clearing the air, she suggested, would be to confront bizarre conspiracy theories that proliferate in Pakistani media and promote virulent anti-Americanism.
What she referred to has been on full display since bin Laden's death. Stories making the rounds allege that the al-Qaida leader was killed elsewhere and his body was brought by the CIA to Abbottabad to embarrass the Pakistani military. Meanwhile, 66 percent of urban Pakistanis don't even believe bin Laden was killed, according to a recent poll.
Clinton also suggested that more be done to let Pakistanis — and Americans — get a fairer picture of the other country's efforts.
Few Americans realize, she said, that Pakistan has committed one-third of its army to fight Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, suffering more than 3,000 military and 30,000 civilian casualties in the process.
Nor do Pakistanis appreciate, she said, the extent of U.S. aid to their country.
If candor became the watchword of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Pakistan's leaders would shoot down nonsensical conspiracy theories.
Pakistanis could demand honest answers about U.S. strategy and staying power in Afghanistan. U.S. officials could in turn demand to know whether rogue Pakistani military elements are backing terrorists who hit India and threaten the West. And both sides could expect serious answers.
Each side also could set out its red lines for an Afghan solution, and then decide what degree of cooperation was feasible.
"The point of friendship," Clinton said, "is telling each other difficult truths where we see them."
But if this relationship remains trapped in a web of wild theories, evasions and rumors, there is no way it can work.