PAKISTAN-US relations, spanning more than six decades, have seen their ups and downs. At one point, Pakistan was called the most allied ally and at times, the relationship descended to the lowest point. But during different phases of turbulence, both countries have sought to restore their ties. In the current phase, relations between the US and Pakistan are on the right track and need to be developed further.
Pakistan-US relations are important for us to make advances in science, technology, industry and agriculture, stimulate economic growth, explore new markets and collaborate in maintaining peace and security in the region.
The relationship between Pakistan and the US is important in its own right. Some people think our growing strategic cooperative partnership with China would necessarily mean strained or even hostile ties with the US. This is not true. Beijing itself is following a policy of win-win partnerships. Although it has differences with the US, it has strong economic and financial ties with it and both countries regularly meet for a strategic and economic dialogue. Whenever strains in Pak-American relations appeared to be spinning out of control, Beijing counseled us to show restraint and reduce tensions. We also should follow a more nuanced approach to deal with the complex regional and global landscape.
Pakistan too has a strategic dialogue going on with the US, which has six baskets: economic and finance; defense; law enforcement and counter terrorism; security, strategic stability, and non proliferation; energy; and education, science, and technology. All six are important, but in the current phase we should seek the US assistance in the clusters of economic and financial relations, energy and education and science and technology. In diverse scientific and technological fields, the US is still the best source of knowledge and knowhow. The number of Pakistani students in the US is very low: some 5,000 compared to India’s 130,000. We should urge the US to remove barriers to allow our students to enrol in hard core scientific, economic and ICT disciplines.
One shift that we can make is to develop the economic component of our relationship within the overall geo-strategic framework.
Both countries should seriously pursue a Bilateral Investment Treaty and promote the United States-Pakistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to enhance trade and promote investments in Pakistan by encouraging wider involvement of the private sector. Pakistan should review its policy of asking Washington to reduce tariffs on textile exports because it has failed to produce any tangible results.
With the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the bulk of our energy needs would be met in the next ten years. The US too is being involved, on selective basis, to help us overcome energy shortfalls in the hydropower and alternate energy sectors.
Since 2008, we have been pressing the US to consider a civil nuclear deal with us, similar to its deal with India, and drop its opposition to Pakistan’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The US responses, at various times, have ranged from a No to dubious nods to dim green signals. Former Secretary of State Hillary at one point indicated that she would try to initiate a conversation internally to prepare the ground for such an engagement, but there was no follow up at level of leadership. At the working level, however, there has been dialogue on the subject, with the US raising a series of questions.
What is clear is that Pakistan would consider such a deal if it is discriminatory. Any conversation directly or indirectly veering off to questions regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme would obviously not be acceptable. The composition of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, any suggested limitations to Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and any intrusive verification mechanism would be irrelevant to this discussion. We have had a separate discourse on nuclear security and safety of Pakistan’s nuclear programme; and the US has usually appreciated the stringent measures Pakistan has taken.
The US needs to be persuaded that Pakistan’s admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, simultaneously with India, is in the interest of the US and strategic stability in South Asia.
The US and Pakistan are both keen to revive the Afghan peace and reconciliation dialogue. Washington has clout with President Ashraf Ghani and his coalition partners. That conduit must be used to save Afghanistan from more bloodshed and warfare. Pakistan’s stability and prosperity too depends partly on it.
We many share evidence with the US of Indian intelligence agency RAW’s involvement in acts of terrorism in FATA, Baluchistan, Karachi and other areas of Pakistan, but official and nonofficial Washington will remain skeptical because of the effective campaigns of the India lobby there. In fact, we should brace ourselves for a barrage of allegations against Pakistan by Indian and American analysts.
Despite this handicap, we should persevere in seeking stronger ties with the US, because the more territory we surrender in Washington, the more space India gains at our expense and uses it to the detriment of Pakistan. In this context, we should use the full potential of our diaspora community in the US, whose number now ranges between 700,000 to 1 million. Senators and Congressmen, as well as the Administration, do heed their voice.
We should raise the issue of Kashmir with full vigor, realizing that the US in the recent past has made some balanced statements on the issue and emphasized the need for talks. At the same time, we must temper our expectations because in pursuit of its own interests, the US has shelved its concerns regarding Modi’s extremist doctrine and embraced him intimately.
It is really strange that Pakistan, as an ally of the US, has given so many sacrifices in the war against terrorism, suffered most grievously, and given an air corridor, logistical support and crucial intelligence during its and NATO/ISAF’s operations in Afghanistan. And yet the American President hesitates to visit Pakistan. He would rather go to India and Afghanistan and remote capitals, but would not come to Pakistan. Why?
The US-Pakistan relationship should not be seen in black and white and through the prism of likes and dislikes. It has many grey areas; and Pakistan should know by now that some of our vital interests are bound with this relationship, which should be handled skillfully.
—The writer is Director General Institute of Foreign Relations Islamabad and a former Ambassador. He also worked in Pakistan Embassy in Washington from 1997 to 2002