Anti-U.S. Wave Imperiling Efforts in Pakistan, Officials Say

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 25, 2009

A new wave of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan has slowed the arrival of hundreds of U.S. civilian and military officials charged with implementing assistance programs, undermined cooperation in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and put American lives at risk, according to officials from both countries.

In recent weeks, Pakistan has rejected as "incomplete" at least 180 U.S. government visa requests. Its own ambassador in Washington has criticized what he called a "blacklist" used by the Pakistani intelligence service to deny visas or to conduct "rigorous, intrusive and obviously crude surveillance" of journalists and nongovernmental aid organizations it dislikes, including the Congress-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute.

"It would be helpful if the grounds for action against them are shared with the Embassy," Ambassador Husain Haqqani wrote in late July to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry and the head of its Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

Tension has been fueled by widespread media reports in Pakistan of increased U.S. military and intelligence activity -- including the supposed arrival of 1,000 Marines and the establishment of "spy" centers in houses rented by the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Islamabad. U.S. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson has publicly labeled the reports false, and she told local media executives in a recent letter that publishing addresses and photographs of the houses "endanger[s] the lives of Americans in Pakistan."

At the highest levels, bilateral cooperation is said to be running smoothly. President Obama and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met Thursday in New York with a gathering of Pakistan's international "friends." With Obama's enthusiastic support, the Senate on Thursday approved a $7.5 billion, five-year package that will triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, meets regularly with his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani.

But just below the top, officials in Islamabad and Washington say, the relationship is fraught with mutual suspicion and is under pressure so extreme that it threatens cooperation against the insurgents.

"We recognize that Pakistani public opinion on the United States is still surprisingly low, given the tremendous effort by the United States to lead an international coalition in support of Pakistan," Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said after Thursday's meetings. "We are a long way from this meeting to realities on the ground."

As Obama grapples with U.S. military proposals to greatly increase the number of American troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, other options on the table include a stepped-up counterterrorism campaign against al-Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan that would require more -- rather than less -- Pakistani support.

Recent Pew Research Center surveys in Pakistan found considerable support for the "idea" of working with the United States to combat terrorism. But only 16 percent of Pakistanis polled expressed a favorable view overall of the United States, and only 13 percent expressed confidence in Obama.

Pakistanis, who are extremely sensitive about national sovereignty, oppose allowing foreign troops on their soil and have protested U.S. missile attacks launched from unmanned aircraft against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan.

Much of the recent upheaval has focused on U.S. plans to expand the U.S. Embassy complex in Islamabad, a heavily guarded, 38-acre compound with nearly 1,500 employees, two-thirds of them Pakistani nationals. About 400 employees are to be added, half of them Americans. Reports of the expansion have led to rumors that at least 1,000 Marines also would be arriving, along with new contingents of U.S. spies.

In addition to repeatedly denying ulterior motives, the embassy has held news briefings and invited Pakistani reporters to tour its grounds. Patterson appeared on local television Saturday to reiterate that Washington has no takeover desires and that there are only eight Marines in the country, guarding the main embassy building.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company