PM Nawaz Sharif has recently concluded his four-day official visit to the United States at the invitation of President Obama. In fact, nothing substantial has come out of this much hyped ‘ice-breaking’ visit. It has somehow failed to repair the long-strained bilateral ties between the two countries. Marking the end of this visit, the Pak-US joint statement reads: “The two leaders expressed their conviction that a resilient US-Pakistan partnership is vital to regional and global peace and security and reaffirmed their commitment to address evolving threats in South Asia.” However, similar formal diplomatic pledges and assertions often hardly help significantly improve the ties between two sovereign states.
With so many twist and turns, highs and lows; the Pak-US bilateral bond can aptly be termed as a roller coaster relationship. Resembling the roller coaster ride, there was smooth beginning, but after a short while, the riders had to experience a lot of jerks and jolts. Therefore, there has been more screaming than cheering. The Pak-US roller coaster ride has further turned unpleasant on account of the mutual mistrust between the riding partners. Besides this, owing to varying characteristics of both riders, this ride has been a fun for one rider and mere a nightmare for the other. As a matter of fact, the increasing trust deficit between Pakistan and the US has overshadowed their bilateral relations. At present, the current state of mutual mistrust has also somehow become the most dominant characteristic of Pak-US relations. Although both countries have established close strategic, military and economic relations for a long time, yet they have failed in fostering trustable and reliable bilateral relations so far. Now for some time, both countries look quite skeptical about each other’s sincerity and integrity. At the moment, this trust deficit is regarded as the major hurdle in the way of repairing the strained Pak-US bilateral ties.
Primarily, certain post 9/11 political developments in Afghanistan have been instrumental in giving rise to current mistrust between the two countries. It is generally believed that the two allies are trying to advance their respective national strategic interests in this region in the name War on Terror. In this context, both countries also accuse each other of playing a double game. This run-with-the-hare-and-hunting-with-the-hounds sort of game in Afghanistan has make the situation worse for both allies in the so-called WoT.
The US has long been believing that Pakistan is covertly supporting and harbouring the members of certain anti-US militant outfits like Haqqani Network, Quetta Shura, afghan Taliban etc. Time and again, it has also communicated these apprehensions to Pakistan covertly and overtly. The incidents like the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, and the alleged death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar in a hospital in Karachi somehow further augment the US suspicions against Pakistan. There have also been certain attempts on the part of international media to establish Pakistan’s hand behind the recent capture of Kunduz city by the Taliban. In fact, the recently-concluded visit of PM Nawaz Sharif to US is also being viewed primarily against this particular backdrop.
On the other hand, Pakistan has been weary of the US policies and strategies in Afghanistan since its invasion in Afghanistan in 2001. This invasion has provided a unique opportunity to India to expand its influence in Afghanistan. Ever since, the ‘strategic partner’ of Afghanistan and the ‘regional ally’ of US has observably consolidated its position in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is matter of serious concern for Pakistan.
Therefore, there is a well-founded reason for Pakistan to doubt the sincerity of US towards it. Pakistan has frequently been complaining and protesting against the drone attacks conducted by the US inside Pakistani territory. The Salala attack and Abbottabad operation were the two significant incidents in the country in 2011 that substantially forced Pakistan to review its policy towards the US.
The Afghan intelligence agency NDS sabotaged the recent peace initiatives taken by Pakistan by readily declaring the death of Mullah Omer on the eve of second round of talks. The US also didn’t made any sincere effort to keep this talk process going to bring various Afghan factions on the negotiating table. Besides all this, Pakistan is also quite skeptical about the US intentions towards its nuclear program. There have been many conspiracy theories regarding the alleged US plans to limit, or otherwise roll back, Pakistan nuclear capability. Similar echoes were frequently sounded during the recent visit of MP Nawaz Sharif to the US.
Pakistan felt itself neglected and alienated following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in late 1980’s as it was no longer required by the US to advance its global interests. However, after 9/11 incident, once again Pakistan decided to extend an unqualified support to US for its so-called War on Terror. But regrettably, the ‘non-Nato major ally’ of the US found itself just in the middle of nowhere at the end of the day. During the last decade, Pakistan has been observed gradually moving from the frontline to the firing line. Strangely, despite losing more than 60 thousands lives of its innocent citizen, Pakistan is still being asked by the US to ‘do more’.
The US did not take Pakistan into confidence before reviewing and reformulating its strategic alignment in this region. While so doing, it least bothered about the genuine concerns of Pakistan. It is quite ironic that US has established informal strategic relations with India, but is engaging its old ally-Pakistan through only a strategic dialogue without any outcome. Similarly, the US has played a proactive role to ink a civil nuclear deal with India in 2006 without putting any restriction on its military nuclear ambitions. On the other hand, US has always been quite desirous of limiting and controlling the nuclear assets of Pakistan in lieu of extending civil nuclear cooperation to it.
Now Pakistan has also to re-evaluate and reformulate its strategic alignment in the world keeping in view the ground realities and geo-strategic perspective of the region. Pakistan can no longer afford to neglect its vital security interests while unquestioningly and blindly protecting the US interests in the region. The cold war is over, therefore now Pakistan should also come out of its cold war era frame of mind. At the same, Pakistan should also not be over-optimistic about instantly improving its long-strained bilateral relations with the US.
In order to minimise the trust deficit between the two countries, both sides have to pursue some concrete confidence-building measures.
Being a larger and superior state, the US can take the lead in improving and strengthening its relations with Pakistan. It can only determine the future trajectory of Pak-US bilateral relations. The US has to treat Pakistan equitably, if not preferentially, at par with India in this region. Pakistan’s genuine grievances should adequately be addressed. Lip service, and goodwill intentions expressed in joint statements made by both countries, will hardly help setting things right. The US has to do something substantial and practical in this regard. Indeed, actions always speak louder than words.