Pakistan-US Fractured Relations
Asif Haroon Raja
Historically Pak-US relationship has always been marked by convergence and divergence of national interests that kept on switching from friendship to friction. The US gained more during the times of convergence of interests but periods of divergence outweighed the former. Although Pakistan earned the title of ‘most allied ally of USA’, it is also the most sanctioned country in the world. By putting all its eggs in the basket of USA, Pakistan gained less as it was not given the required support by the US when needed most. The US left Pakistan high and dry during the 1965 War and in the 1971 War which led to the disintegration of the country. In fact, the US later imposed severe penalties, embargoes and sanctions on Pakistan. This unholy practice of sanctions was repeated in 1979 owing to nuclear related suspicions and in 1990 after the successful culmination of Afghan War in which Pakistan had played a key role in defeating erstwhile USSR. Worst was that USA embraced India which had all along remained in Soviet camp. It imposed additional sanctions after our nuclear tests and after Gen Musharraf’s military coup. The US stood on the side of India during Kargil conflict and forced Pakistan to unilaterally vacate the occupied heights. Pakistan remained on the wrong side of USA from 1990 till September 2001.
In the post-9/11 scenario, Washington decided to once again befriend Pakistan since it knew that without its active support, Afghanistan venture may prove very costly. Pakistan happily accepted the role of a front-line state to fight global war on terror and to forsake Mullah Omar led regime in Kabul under the illusion that all its economic woes would be addressed. It agreed to assist the invading forces by way of providing air bases, logistic supply routes, airspace for air sorties, and intelligence cooperation. Instead of extracting matching returns, all these concessions were doled out to the needy USA very cheaply.
Pak-US alliance was purely a marriage of convenience but the US succeeded in duping Pakistan that it would not leave Pakistan in a lurch again. In reality, the US strategically aligned itself with India, Israel, Britain and Germany and Northern Alliance (NA). After capturing Afghanistan and installing a puppet regime led by Hamid Karzai, the six intelligence agencies of the strategic partners led by CIA embarked upon a massive covert war against Pakistan using Afghan soil to achieve its hidden objectives. Concurrently, the US gave a green signal to India to consolidate its position in Afghanistan. This was despite the fact that India doesn’t share border with Afghanistan, it is a Hindu country where Hindu extremism is constantly rising, and has played no role in war on terror. Yet, the US vowed to let India fill the vacuum once it departs and to make it a key player in Afghan affairs. Other than lucrative defence and economic agreements, the US granted India civilian nuclear deal and is now striving to make it a permanent member of UNSC as well as of exclusive nuclear club.
Since the US had made Pakistan its ally under an agenda, bilateral relations saw a shifting policy pattern to dubiousness, and Pakistan remained target of accusations from all sides. There were frequent swings in US mood towards Pakistan; particularly the inconsiderate warnings of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary Defence Leon Panetta, former CJCSC Admiral Mullen and even Barack Obama which caused discomfiture and more annoyance in the country. To the utter dismay of Pakistan the US kept doling out series of highly productive rewards but gave very little to Pakistan. The US paid no heed to the security concerns of Pakistan but remained ever worried about India’s mostly fabricated concerns. Even now it is seeking critical favors for India at the cost of Pakistan’s national interests.
The US brokered Pak-Afghan-Transit-Trade-
Agreement (PATTA) on July 19, 2010 allowing transportation of Afghan goods through Wagah to India and in return Pakistan getting permission to use Afghan territory for trade with Central Asian Republics (CARs). The US twisted Pakistan’s arm to make India part of PATTA so as to allow India to export goods to Afghanistan and beyond through Wagah border, grant MFN status to India and liberalize visa regime. Efforts are now in hand to pressure Pakistan to allow India to transport merchandise goods to and from Afghanistan without giving anything in return except for deceptive promises that trade with India will be of great benefit to Pakistan. A new opening is being given to India despite the fact that there is a serious trade imbalance in Indian favor. Unable to compete with India, it will adversely impact Pakistan’s manufacturing industries and will also negatively impact Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan and with CARs.
In order to keep Pakistan bridled, the US coined ‘do more mantra’, kept leveling unsubstantiated allegations, resorted to coercive diplomacy and subjected it to drone strikes. It made Pakistan a convenient scapegoat to hide its failures. Pak-US relations, which remained lukewarm because of bossy and mistrustful attitude of American officials and their outright leaning toward India and Afghanistan, nosedived after the incidents of Raymond Davis in January 2011, stealth attack in Abbottabad on 2 May, Admiral Mullen’s diatribe in September describing Haqqani network as the ‘veritable arm’ of ISI, and brutal Salala attack on 26 November. In utter frustration, Pakistan was forced to close Shamsi airbase, block NATO supply routes for over seven months and cease military cooperation. These steps meant to impress upon the US to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to treat Pakistan as an ally rather than a target further widened the trust gap and brought Pak-US relations to a near-breaking point.
Fighting the US dictated war on terror has had debilitating impact on Pakistan’s social, political and economic life. Strikes by CIA operated drones and US meddling in domestic affairs has resulted in gradual erosion of Pakistan’s sovereignty and honor. Despite suffering the most in terms of human casualties and economic losses, the US prefers India over Pakistan. While the US keeps prodding Pakistan to befriend India and not to treat it as arch enemy, it doesn’t press India to bring a change in its belligerent attitude and hegemonic policies and to lower its ever increasing defence budget each year. The US asks Pakistan to shift additional formations from the east to the west without realizing that India never misses an opportunity to harm Pakistan. The US and Israel have been constantly helping India to improve its economic, military and nuclear strengths and are responsible for disturbing the regional military balance of power. Rewards have been generously doled out in complete disregard of India’s ambitions and dangerous designs against Pakistan.
India has constructed 40 dams over the three rivers flowing into Pakistan to turn its fertile lands arid but no concern has been expressed by USA or any western country. The US is least interested in finding an amicable solution to the 65 year old Kashmir dispute since any facilitation in this direction will annoy India. The US fails to comprehend that when it lectures on Indo-Pak amity, until and unless right of self-determination is given to the Kashmiris and water aggression by India is reversed, meaningful goodwill cannot be promoted between the two antagonists.
In the wake of security situation in Afghanistan spinning out of control of US-NATO- forces despite the two US troops surges, depleting US economy and increasing home pressure to end the unwinnable war, the US initiated a political prong to induce the Taliban to negotiate for a political settlement. This initiative enhanced Pakistan’s importance and in order to lure Pakistan to help in convincing the hard-line Taliban leaders, the process of strategic dialogue was started in 2010 which provides a platform to both Pakistan and the US to convey their expectations and demands. The main purpose behind the Pak-US strategic dialogue was to understand and address the interests and concerns of each other. The US interest was to find a way for a safe and honorable exit from Afghanistan with Pakistan’s assistance. Pakistan on the other hand was mainly interested in US assistance to improve its faltering economy, overcome its energy crisis and to address its military imbalances.
Pakistan has been seeking a civil nuclear deal like the one US concluded with India and consider it imperative for restoring balance in the region. It wants this agreement to overcome the energy crisis it is facing. Pakistan wants to have a balanced relationship with the US and not a discriminatory one. It expects from the US to restrain rather than encourage Indian meddlesome role in Pakistan using Afghan soil. Pakistan was not given an improved US trade access for its textile exports. It is crucial for Pakistan’s economy to restore its declining industrial sector through trade access which is more effective than aid.
The US has been making tall promises but has failed to deliver. Pakistan didn’t receive from the US the support it expected over its national security concerns. Rather, it squeezed Pakistan by stopping the payment of committed aid installments and even withheld $1.2 billion which it had to pay against CSF for services rendered by Pak Army. Pakistan’s request for a free trade agreement has not been ceded to. The Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ) legislation that would give market access and trade concessions to Pakistan and Enterprise Fund Projects and construction of two hydro electric dams in FATA are still pending. As against total $ 18 billion Pakistan received from the US since 2002, it lost $70 billion in fighting the war on terror. Human losses have crossed the figure of 35000. 5000 fatalities suffered by Pakistan law enforcement agencies are far more than the casualties suffered by 48 countries involved in war on terror.
With the continuously worsening situation in Afghanistan and setbacks at home for the US administration, Pakistan’s geo-strategic position in the region has once again presented hope for players engaged in Afghanistan. Indications are that the only reason that the US has so far not abandoned Pakistan is that it has lost the war in Afghanistan and its safe and honorable exit is to a large extent dependent upon Pakistan. Another reason is the breakdown in US-Taliban parleys which has placed the US in an awkward position. It has no roadmap for its safe exit and future stability of the region. It is pinning hopes on Pakistan to convince the Taliban to resume talks for a negotiated political settlement. However, despite knowing that Pakistan is the only country that can play a key role in solving Afghan tangle, the US wants to keep Pakistan out and India within its loop.
Pakistan has already ceded lot of ground without extracting anything in return. America’s efforts to give enhanced role to India in Afghanistan and to pressure Pakistan to grant land access to India via Wagah should be firmly resisted. Concessions should be reciprocal and not unilateral.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org