Gays, drones, vaccines and nukes in widening US-Pakistan split

Islamabad: An activist of Pakistan's Islami Jamiat Talba ("Islamic Organisation of Male Students") chants slogans during a protest march towards the US embassy in Islamabad on July 8, 2011. (AFP Photo/Farooq Naeem)
As tension rises between Washington and Islamabad, the two allies find new reasons for a quarrel every week. A lawyer group in Pakistan is calling for the expulsion of the US Ambassador for hosting a gay rights party in a house owned by the embassy.

Cameron Manter’s party in early July “was ‘a rocket attack’ on the culture and social tradition of the whole region,” the activists said in a statement.

Head of the Lahore-based group Askar Ali called on the Pakistan government to resist “Americans’ unethical moves aimed at destruction of the Muslim culture.”

The row is one of many which have escalated between the US and its long-time ally Pakistan recently. Both official Islamabad and Pakistani population disapprove of America’s military operations in their country, which result in dozens of civilian deaths from drone strikes each month.

They are also angry at how American agents, particularly those of the CIA, act in Pakistan without informing its authorities. On Friday Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) demanded that all such operations be suspended. The senior official is now on a visit to the US in an attempt to head down the tension mounting between the two countries.

The latest example of such operations was the alleged secret gathering of DNA samples during vaccinations in Pakistani city Abbottabad. This was done in an attempt to find relatives of Osama Bin Laden and discover his hideout through them.

While the report by the Guardian newspaper was not confirmed or denied by the CIA, Pakistan acted to arrest Dr. Shakir Afridi, who is suspected of co-operating with the American intelligence agencies. Later Islamabad said the medic may be released without charges, if the ISI investigation proves that he did not know he was spying for the CIA.

The raid on Bin Laden’s hideout on the night of May 1, which ended with the death of the high-profile terrorist leader, was the trigger for the current dispute between the US and Pakistan. Washington says too many powerful figures in Pakistan have close ties with the Taliban, which compromises American efforts in fighting the movement. This was named as the reason why the raid on Osama Bin Laden was done in secret.

In one of the latest moves to show its discontent, Washington has cut the annual aid to Pakistan’s military more than twofold by $800 million. The move was in response to Pakistan’s ousting American military advisers from the country and refusing visas to many US agents. Also after the move US increased the number of drone attacks on Pakistani territory.

Another issue which has been drawn into the public domain recently is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Last week, the Washington Post accused Pakistan’s authorities of taking bribes from North Korea for aiding them with their nuclear weapons program in the 1990s. The link has not been secret for at least five years, but bringing it back up now seems to be in line with the general mounting of pressure on Pakistan by the US, experts say.