Ephemeral Pak-US relations

pak-us-480x238 By Asif Haroon Raja

Looking into the history of Pak-US relations spread over six decades one finds that the US relationship was always transitory in nature. After the death of Liaquat Ali in October 1951, regionalism raised its ugly head and it became easier for the US to expand its perverse influence in Pakistan because of self-serving mini-mind leaders.

The US influence over Pakistan has remained ever pervasive. Not only governments have come and gone under the directions of Washington, its economic health has also been regulated by it. Whenever the US desired to fulfill its interests in this region with the help of Pakistan, it uplifted its fortunes by doling out aid generously and winking at aid giving agencies to do the same. Aid injections are however strictly regulated in a manner to keep Pakistan afloat but dependent. Aid flow and goodwill prevailed as long as Pakistan leadership abided to its commands and served its interests loyally.

No sooner the US objectives are achieved, or it finds that Pakistan’s enthusiasm in performance of its assigned tasks is waning, or is becoming reluctant or defiant, or tilting towards some other power; its friendship turns into coldness and at times hostility. The chosen leader suddenly turns from an asset into a liability and is either humiliatingly ousted from power or murdered. Pakistan was punished when it lost its utility value, or for its defiance through sanctions, media war, coercion and fomenting internal instability to bleed its economy.

The US needed Pakistan’s services in early 1950s because of Communist threat and made it member of SEATO and CENTO. Pakistan joined the western pacts under the belief that it would remain secure from expansionist India. Moreover, all our political leaders and Governor/President after Liaquat Ali were pro-US. The US had no other alternative in this vital region since India was the camp follower of former Soviet Union and had refused to become part of defensive arc stretching from Turkey and Iran to Pakistan.

Even in those hey days during which Pakistan was termed as the most allied ally, the US stance was unfair. During 1962 Indo-China border conflict, the US falsely assured Ayub Khan that if he didn’t take advantage of the precarious military situation of India, it will help in resolving Kashmir dispute. Pakistan thus missed a golden chance to reclaim Kashmir. The US started building up Indian military in the aftermath of its humiliating defeat in the conflict, which enabled Indian Army to raise five additional infantry divisions between 1962 and 1965 and tilt the military balance in its favor.

During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the US stopped economic as well as military aid including spare parts to Pakistan knowing that USSR was continuing to deliver India’s entire military needs. The US did not take into account that Pak military was entirely dependent upon US manufactured weaponry and was five times inferior to India both in men and material. Stoppage of economic assistance seriously impacted Ayub’s ambitious third five-year development program (1965-1970), which had all the potential to address east-west inequities and to turn Pakistan into an Asian tiger.

President Ayub Khan remained in very good books of USA as long as he leaned heavily on USA but was unceremoniously ousted from power when he started tilting towards China. Moscow felt highly offended when Pakistan under Gen Yahya Khan acted as a conduit in 1971 to bring a thaw in China-US relations and decided to punish Pakistan. The turning point in Pak-US relations came during the 1971 Indo-Pak war when Pakistan’s repeated requests to help save marooned East Pakistan from falling were ignored by Washington while Moscow provided full support to India. ZA Bhutto was made a horrible example when he refused to stop nuclear program which started in 1976 in response to India’s nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1974.

After betraying Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971 wars against India, the US again befriended Pakistan in 1981 to help fight the proxy war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. All the sins of President Ziaul Haq were ignored when he agreed to make Pakistan the frontline state of the US led Free World and assist the Mujahideen. His inclination towards Islam and continuance of nuclear program at Kahuta were accepted by Reagan and he was eulogized as a great Mujahid.

No sooner the objectives were accomplished in 1988; Pakistan’s sacrifices were forgotten. Zia the prime mover of Afghan Jihad was first terrorized through Ojhri Camp disaster in May 1988 and when he didn’t buckle, ‘Get Zia’ plan was conceived. He died in a C-130 plane crash on August 17, 1988. Although the crash of the most secure aircraft still remains a mystery, it is generally believed that CIA was behind it since Zia’s image in the Muslim world had shot up sky high and he had successfully weaponized nuclear program. He was all set to impose Shariah in Pakistan and had made a permanent place in the hearts of Afghans. He had become a danger man for the US and hence had to be got rid of.

Pakistan was abandoned with indecent haste and harsh sanctions were imposed under Pressler Amendment to force it to roll back its expensive nuclear program. Benazir Bhutto was twice brought into power in 1990s to denuclearize Pakistan, but each time she refused to oblige. Nawaz Sharif became a marked man after he refused to succumb to US-UK pressure and carried out six nuclear tests in May 1998 in response to Indian tests. To punish him, conditions were created for his removal from power and takeover by Gen Musharraf in October 1999. This crucial change was affected in anticipation to 9/11 and the agenda the US had chalked out against the Muslims. Nawaz survived death sentence by the skin of his teeth owing to Saudi intervention.

After 9/11, the US once again offered its hand of friendship. President Bush led team deceived Gen Musharraf that it will make Pakistan its strategic partner and resolve all its economic problems if it agreed to become the frontline state in the war on terror. Pakistan was assured that this time the US would forge lasting relationship based on mutual trust and friendship and will not repeat past mistakes. Pakistan was taken out of the intensive care unit and given a new lease of life for next few years but the economic progress achieved during Musharraf regime proved short-lived since economy was consumer oriented.

Musharraf was allowed to go in exile since in that timeframe he had become a liability. He was to be re-launched at an appropriate time. Whatever economic gains made during his tenure went down the drain because of poor governance, incompetence and corruption of the PPP led regime installed by USA. Pakistan lost many times more than what it had gained through US aid.

Although Pakistan rendered huge sacrifices in fighting US imposed war, the US neither acknowledged its sacrifices nor compensated it for the human and material losses it incurred since the puppet regime was taken for granted. The relations remained uneasy all along due to distrustful and bossy attitude of the US and GHQ’s reluctance to obey Washington’s command blindly. Frostiness turned into near hostility in 2011 as a consequence to Raymond Davis incident, stealth attack in Abbottabad and attack on Salala border post killing 24 Pak soldiers. Between December 2011 and July 2012, Pak-US relations were at lowest ebb. Thereafter the relations have begun to improve steadily although not without hiccups.

This process of giving artificial respiration through US aid,  IMF, World Bank, Paris Club, ADB when Pakistan’s services are needed followed by policy of coercion to compel it to tow its line has been going on since 1953. It is a coincidence that whenever the US had to fulfill its strategic interests in this region, Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator. One window operation suited Washington to elicit quick responses rather than having to deal with multi-layered parliamentary system. For its crucial endgame in Afghanistan, the US tried its best to force Gen Ashfaq Kayani to take over the reins of power but the latter refused to oblige and let the change take place through democratic process.

In the backdrop of foreign policy framework of USA in which Pakistan doesn’t figure out, we must be careful in jumping to wishful conclusions. We should remain vigilant not to again get deceived by sweet talk of US leaders asserting that they want to move to ‘full partnership’ with Pakistan. We should be mentally prepared to get ditched after completion of ISAF’s drawdown in December 2014. Rather than keeping all our eggs in the basket of untrustworthy USA, our policy makers formulating national security policy should distribute the eggs pragmatically. In addition to further augmenting strategic relationship with China, offers of economic cooperation made by Russia should be accepted.

The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, columnist and author of several books. asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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