Former Obama intelligence official Blair calls US-Pakistan relations 'deformed'

U.S.-Pakistani relations are “deformed,” and Washington should cease linking its Afghanistan war plans to expectations that Islamabad will target groups on its own soil, a former top American official said. 

Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence (DNI), on Monday issued a bleak assessment of the icy partnership, which further eroded Saturday when a NATO air strike killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers.

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The strike has set off a global ripple, with NATO and U.S. Central Command looking into just what happened at the facility in northwest Pakistan. A senior Pakistani official on Monday told CNN his nation would no longer conduct “business as usual” with Washington.

During his time as DNI, Blair said he saw instances in which both nations disregarded the interests of the other. Officials from each nation also looked for ways to “wring out” of the partnership outcomes that would be beneficial solely to their nation, he added during a lunch-hour conference sponsored by the Aspen Institute.

Any relationship built on these characteristics, Blair said, “likely will be short-lived.”

The Obama administration has been quiet about Saturday's air strike, but lawmakers have been increasingly hard on Pakistan since U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden there in May.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday said all Americans were saddened by the loss of life in Pakistan, but he then criticized Pakistan for complicating coalition efforts in Afghanistan. 

“All Americans are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Pakistani soldiers in cross-border air actions this weekend,” said McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member. “It is important to note that certain facts in Pakistan continue to complicate significantly the ability of coalition and Afghan forces to succeed in Afghanistan. 

“Most importantly, Pakistan’s intelligence agency continues to support the Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups that are killing U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan,” McCain said, “and the vast majority of the material used to make improvised explosive devices originates from two fertilizer factories in Pakistan.”

Blair said U.S. officials should try a different approach in the Afghanistan conflict, one that no longer includes betting Pakistani officials will target Taliban and other Islamist groups that operate from the Pakistani side of its border with Afghanistan.

Washington should “go back to a relationship that makes more sense,” Blair said. That includes focusing on “long-term” issues like reforming Pakistan’s education system to one not run by religious extremists. A new U.S. approach also should set up a new set of “penalties and inducements” to change Islamabad’s behavior, he said.

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