The Pakistani-U.S. Alliance Evolves

Thu Feb. 16, 2006 4:50 PM EST

Despite nearby chants of "death to the U.S.," a lasting result of the cartoon controversy raging in Europe, U.S. army medics held a small ceremony in Pakistan yesterday to say goodbye to the last U.S. MASH unit there.

The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital has been stationed in Pakistan for the last four months in response to the October 8th earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people. The $4.5 million unit in Northern Pakistan consisted of 84 beds, a surgical suite with two operating tables, two intensive care units, a pharmacy, laboratory, radiology units and a power generation system. The entire operation was donated to Pakistani doctors as the U.S. transitions into using smaller, more flexible, traveling medical teams.

According to U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the MASH unit "caused tens of thousands of Pakistanis up in this area to change their view of America." Crocker called the recent violent uprisings and slogans the product of a few "agitators," claiming they are not representative of broad Pakistani sentiment towards America.

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With the United States giving $510 million to quake relief and reconstruction in Pakistan, the two countries have deepened the alliance that was forged in 2001 at the start of the "war on terror." The Pakistani Surgeon General even announced "Pakistan and the United States have been very close allies for a very long period…these mutual exchanges will further strengthen our bonds."

But in upcoming months Pakistan must solidify its position as an American ally, and prove that the U.S. will benefit from these ties. In addition to recovering from the earthquake, Pakistan now faces periodic revolts, and is redirecting large numbers of ground forces including six army brigades and 25,000 paramilitary men to the Southwestern province, where Baluch nationalists, who accuse the government of exploiting their natural resources, have left 215 dead, carrying out what the Pakistan Human Rights Commission calls, "indiscriminate bombing and strafing."

Thus far the U.S. has called the deteriorating condition of the region an "internal matter", for Pakistan to address. But if the carnage continues, it will ultimately affect Pakistan's participation as an ally against Al-Qaeda, calling into question its value as an ally.