Less domination and more cooperation
According to a popular notion, three As — Allah, America and Army — have remained instrumental in managing the state affairs of Pakistan. This triangle of three As is once again popularised in the wake of the current visit of General Raheel Sharif to the United States. For better or worse, a change is expected in Pak-US relations in the aftermath of this visit.
Pakistan’s search for trustworthy allies in the world began with its inception in 1947. The Indian threat of undoing Pakistan remained central in its dealing with the outside world. Pakistan’s inclination to develop cordial relations with USA was an outcome of the same security dilemma. Nevertheless, since beginning, Pakistan remained unsuccessful in maintaining a balancing act with regards to its relations with outside world. USSR and USA, both super powers extended their invitation to Pakistan after the independence. USSR’s invitation was not respected by Pakistan and complete reliance was sought over USA. While at the same time, India not only became an active advocate of Non Alignment Movement but also ensured good relations with both super powers during Cold War.
Pakistan came under the ambit of USA by becoming part of Cold War alliances namely SEATO and CENTO for the same reason. Contrary to Pakistani expectations, no support was provided to Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 wars against India. Pakistan also missed the opportunity to outflank India during Sino-Indian War of 1962. Pakistan had an excellent opportunity to liberate Kashmir in 1962 when India was embroiled in an armed conflict with China, but Pakistan’s leadership chose to remain neutral on the “request” of Kennedy to Ayub Khan. Lack of financial and military support as promised in defence pacts of SEATO and CENTO was influential in instigating feelings of betrayal and mistrust within Pakistan.
The real impetus in Pak-US relations came in 1979 when Pakistan demanded more than peanuts to contribute in shedding blood of Soviets in Afghanistan. The USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan started a deep sense of insecurity in Pakistan. It was perceived that the USSR might overrun Pakistan after subduing Afghanistan to fulfill its Tsarist ambitions of getting access to warm waters. Pakistan’s concern regarding spillover effect of the godless communist ideology in the region was another compelling factor in drawing Pakistan close to USA. The renewed importance of Pakistan was realised by USA. The influx of aid increased and Pakistani dictatorial leadership supported Mujahideen in collaboration with the US in Afghanistan. However, abandoning Taliban and leaving Pakistan with huge influx of refugees after the Soviet defeat again highlighted the short-sighted approach of the US. The same extremist forces became a menace for USA later as manifested through 9/11 incident.
The historic U-turn of Pakistan on Taliban policy after 9/11 was once again an outcome of need based approach between USA and Pakistan. Although the situation would have been worse off if Pakistan had not sided with USA. The prospects of Pakistan getting isolated and becoming victim of US aggression either in the form of sanctions or NATO-led bombings remained higher. It became imperative to become a frontline ally of the US in war against terrorism to preserve its national interests and international image.
However, the unintended consequences of General Musharraf’s decision to become a chief ally of USA were manifested in the form of increased violence and instability in Pakistan. The abandoned Taliban founded safe havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan and directed their attention against Pakistani state and authority. Pakistani state has remained under withering attacks from Taliban and Al-Qaeda for siding with USA. The number of mass causalities increased as a result of escalated level of suicide bombings. Economically, the country has suffered as international investment halted due to such an insecure and unstable environment. In this scenario, the US demand from Pakistan to “do more” and employment of drones in sheer violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity severed relations with USA in the recent past. The ingratitude exists on both sides and policies have not been synchronised despite the apparent strategic partnership between the two.
In contemporary scenario, Pakistan’s nuclear programme has become an underlying source of tension. The USA perceives Pakistan as an unstable state that should not be in possession of nuclear weapons. The threat of Pakistani nukes getting into the hands of terrorists is grossly exaggerated by think tanks of USA. If Pakistan is an irresponsible state, then the current irrational and extremist government of Modi in India is an equal threat for international peace and security. On the basis of this assumption, India should also not be in possession of nuclear weapons. The US has signed a nuclear deal with India in direct violation of international regimes like NPT while pressurises Pakistan to limit its nuclear arsenals. These discrepancies illustrate that the dichotomy of imaginary and real intentions of USA is based on the idea of saving itself from imperial overstretch vis-à-vis growing power of China at global level.
Geostrategic location of Pakistan has remained a key determinant in shaping the US foreign policy towards Pakistan. In this regards, the US has a record of giving high priority to its own national interests in its relations with Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan’s subservient and opportunistic attitude towards the US has provided an asymmetrical dimension to Pak-US relations in the past. The intricate nature of relationship between the two is the major cause of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. From supporting dictators to making an example out of democratic leaders, the US’ involvement in Pakistan’s affairs has always been marred with double standards. It is no surprise that anti-American sentiments remain popular in Pakistan. It remains the responsibility of both American and Pakistani politicians to replace the short-term need based approach with long-term interest based approach.
The US, realising the shortcoming of its foreign policy has embarked upon changing its nature of relations with Pakistan. The USAID agency is active in facilitating this process. It is heavily investing in development projects, particularly in KP. The idea is to change the mindset from grassroots level by creating a soft image in the eyes of Pakistanis. However, the real discrepancies between Pakistan and US can only be outlawed if “principled negotiations” are conducted between the two at state level. The success of such a dialogue culture requires civil-military conundrum in Pakistan to be settled beforehand. With nuclear talks and Afghan peace agenda on table, the current visit of Chief of Army Staff should manifest less domination and more cooperation as it’s the only way forward.