Although President George Bush calls Pakistan a strong ally in the war on terror, relations between Washington and Islamabad have been, as one White House official says, "tetchy."
They just got tetchier.
The United States urged Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, not to do it. But he did it. He imposed emergency rule. He ignored appeals from the United States and other Western governments despite a stern face-to-face warning Friday from an American commander, Adm. William Fallon.
Today, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, traveling in Turkey, said, "The U.S. has made it very clear it doesn't want extra constitutional measures as that would take Pakistan away from democracy."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack went further in expressing U.S. unhappiness.
"The United States is deeply disturbed by reports," he said. "A state of emergency would be a sharp setback for Pakistani democracy and takes Pakistan off the path toward civilian rule. President Musharraf has stated repeatedly that he will step down as chief of army staff before re-taking the presidential oath of office and has promised to hold elections by Jan. 15. We expect him to uphold these commitments and urge him to do so immediately."
The state of emergency complicates what was already, in the view of U.S. officials, a complicated relationship.
Privately, some American officials have doubted that Musharraf and his senior generals have done all they could to hunt down al Qaeda leaders in the mountains along the border with Afghanistan. But, not wanting to anger Musharraf, they have been careful in their public statements.
Three months ago, President Bush said, "In my discussions with President Musharraf ... I have made it clear to him that I would expect there to be full cooperation in sharing intelligence, and I believe we've got good intelligence sharing. I have indicated to him that the American people would expect there to be swift action taken if there's actionable intelligence on high-value targets inside his country."
President Bush has also been reluctant to do anything that might undermine Musharraf's authority, such as sending American troops to do what, in the view of some members of Congress, Musharraf has failed to do -- wage an effective campaign against terrorists. In one reported instance, senior U.S. officials cancelled a military raid into Pakistani territory because they felt it might lead to massive demonstrations against both the United States and Musharraf.
Bush refuses to discuss contingency plans for military intervention, and has said, "I recognize Pakistan is a sovereign nation, and that's important for Americans to recognize that."
But that has not stopped the United States from giving Musharraf advice, probably a lot more than he wanted.
Musharraf permitted the return to Pakistan last month of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but only under strong pressure from the United States. American officials had urged a power-sharing agreement with Bhutto along with democratic elections.
Bhutto's return resulted in bloody carnage from terrorist bombs that came close to killing or injuring her. One hundred thirty-six people were killed, many of them acting as security guards to shield her.
Musharraf may have decided that allowing Bhutto's return was a mistake and that he was free to ignore appeals from U.S. officials that he not resort to strong-arm tactics.
Just before the imposition of emergency rule, Adm. Fallon warned Musharraf it would endanger America's financial support for his government. Musharraf decided to take that chance.