The US Pakistan Relations—Historical review Touqir Hussain
Written by, Vol 8 No 4 Oct 31, 2013
By Touqir Hussain
(US-Pakistan relations have served some important interests of the two countries over the past six decades. Yet the relationship’s failures have been as big as its successes, because it has never truly reflected a larger conceptual framework, a shared vision, or continuity.
As is so common in any bilateral relationship, some of the challenges the two countries have faced, are still facing and are likely to face in the future, are shared; some are common; and others are linked. But they have had serious differences in handling these challenges in that even on their shared interests their perceptions and policies have not been the same. To compound the difficulties the relationship has been driven by certain politico-military needs of the two countries conducted by a narrow band of leadership at the top assisted by the military and intelligence community. The foreign policy establishment and much of the political class, at least in Pakistan, had little influence on the decision making. As a consequence the relationship never really enjoyed strategic consensus in either country nor did it develop solid and lasting public support.
The truth is the relationship never quite functioned as a normal bilateral relationship. During each of their close alliances the two countries were allies in one issue and antagonists in another. Each was using the other to advance interests of its own that were not quite compatible with those of the other side. That is why the relationship has not been without cost for both sides. And the cost has been rising with each engagement, the worst being the post 9/11 period, especially for Pakistan.
As a result, by 2011 the relationship had almost turned adversarial. How Pakistan and the US reached there over the years and how they have pulled back from the brink and where the relationship is now headed is the subject this essay will explore. And it will do so in the form of an historical analysis.– Author)
The curtain raiser
With the onset of the Cold War the US was so keen to have alliances for the containment of Soviet Union that it picked up allies as much for the sake of numbers as for strategic reasons. Once the need was gone, specially with a relative relaxation of East-West tensions in the 60’s, some of the allies that were not critically needed and whose geo-political value was either secondary, or derivative of a shifting strategic landscape, were dropped as fast as they were picked up. Pakistan was one such country whose geo-political value was variable to the rhythm of its internal dynamics, regional balance of power, and US global interests.
Pakistan never quite understood why it was dropped because it never tried to fully analyze and comprehend why it was picked up in the first place. It somehow came to believe in a fixed and unchanging geo-strategic value of itself, and a false belief that Washington would realize its mistake and return. And return it did but for a different reason, not once but twice.
The next liaison was in the 80’s, and it turned out be dangerous.This time around the relationship was essentially between the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA on one hand and Zia ulHaq and the army on the other. The two foreign offices played a marginal role. The Afghan war did help the US national interests in that it contributed to Washington’s victory in the Cold War. But, Pakistan’s own gain was limited only to the army and Zia; its value to Pakistan’s national interests remained questionable at best. The only meaningful benefit was indirect in that Pakistan’s cooperation in the war provided an escape route to the nuclear program; helping its completion. On the whole the two countries lost as much as they gained as in their expediency and short sightedness they did not perceive the sinister forces of radicalism they had fostered in the service of the Afghan war. They solved one crisis by creating another one for the future.
Not only that, the US yet again packed up and left, but this time added insult to injury by cutting off aid to Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment. By the time Pakistanis realized what had hit them the only response they could come up with was an unremitting anti Americanism. So much so that even Washington’s one solid ally, the army, could not remain immune from it. Out of spite, as well as out of the autonomy that came with the Americans not being around and not looking, Pakistan indeed came to adopt the radical forces nurtured by the Afghanistan war in the service of its own strategic purposes.
With the CIA having walked away the ISI became the “single parent” of the children of the Afghan Jihad who were dispatched to fight for new causes, especially Kashmir. This naturally consternated the Americans who were in the middle of strengthening ties with India as part of the new economic and strategic realities that were emerging after the Cold War. Pakistani actions were seen to be promoting terrorism on one hand and destabilizing India on the other. Unhappiness with Pakistan over its support for Kashmiri insurgency, Afghan Taliban and international Jihadists caused tensions in the relations.To make matters worse fresh sanctions were piled on the existing Pressler sanctions following Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998 and Musharaf’s coup in October 1999.
After a decade of isolation, sanctions and threats to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, Washington returned to Pakistan in 2001 as if nothing had happened in these intervening years. It was confident that Pakistan’s leadership would be waiting to get re-embraced like Zia ulHaq did before. It also made a correct assessment that the leadership was also not only keen to get aligned with the US for the rewards that come with it but also effective enough to get what the US wanted out of the country and authoritarian enough to over ride the wishes of a reluctant population which had been turning on America over time, specially over the previous decade.
Claims that Americans threatened to bomb Pakistan back into the stone ages if it did not become its ally in the war on terrorism and the Afghan warwere a gross exaggeration. This was just a Musharaf alibi to justify an unpopular decision. Yes the Americans did speak imperatively but did not need to issue any threats. They knew the leadership had kept the door open for them and they could walk in anytime by paying the right price.
But what the Americans did not realize was that this time they were relating with a troubled Pakistan and on behalf of a war, that is war on terrorism, that was troubled even before it began. And then came Pakistan’s role as an adjunct in the Afghanistan war whose spill over created such horrendous problems for the countrythat neither Pakistan nor the US Pakistan relations have sincebeen the same.
To understand all this here is the full story.
The full narrative
Having failed to negate the idea of Pakistan, India set about bringing down the state of Pakistan. At least this is how the new born state felt as it faced serious challenges of survival compelling it to look in the direction of the West, especially the US, for protection or patronage. Initially Washington was neither responsive nor interested. South Asia was not an area of strategic importance. In any case the Democratic administration of President Truman was fascinated with the “democratic” and secular India and saw Pakistan partly through the eyes of India and partly through America’s own historical experience of the Civil War of which they saw a certain hint in the “brake away” of Pakistan from India.
Two developments, however, changed American perceptions. The Korean war made the communist threat to Asia look more credible in the eyes of Americans who saw the shadow of the Cold War creeping in to South Asia. Secondly, there was a change of guard in Washington. The new Republican Administration under President Eisenhower was more comfortable with the projection of the US power globally and started looking for allies wherever it could find them.
India declined American blandishments as it did not want great powers to descend on South Asia since this would have curbed its own regional ambitions. Pakistan had no such pretensions nor could it have any even if it wanted to. It had little bargaining power. Pakistan needed help and its needs were dire.US assistance, it was thought, would establish a semblance of a balance of power in the region, inhibiting India from pursuing an adventurist policy towards Pakistan. But, more importantly, it would help Pakistan survive and stabilize.
The US co-opted Pakistan because India declined America’s advances.Pakistan was thus a second best choice for the US and as far as Pakistan was concerned Washington was the only option. Pakistan became a close ally of the US. A mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the US was signed in 1954. Pakistan also joined the SEATO and the Baghdad Pact (later known as CENTO) in 1954 and 1955 respectively. In 1959 Pakistan signed the Bilateral Agreement of Cooperation with the United States. As a result ofthese alliances, the country received nearly $2 billion in U.S. assistance.
With the advent of the Sixties, there was rethinking in Washington towards Asian security that came to impact US-Pakistan relations. There was a growing feeling that the threat in Asia was more political than military and that some of the alliances were not all that critical, especially as the security interests of the member states were not well aligned, unlike NATO. And there was a new US focus on China as an emergent threat.The Sino-Indian war of 1962 reflected as well as affected this assessment. Pakistan was neither consulted nor informed of the US decision to rush military supplies to India. In response Pakistan moved closer to China. The actions of both the US and Pakistan highlighted the contradictions of their alliance and the relationship began weakening.
Then camethe Détente in super power relations. This too had an impact onUS-Pakistan relations with the downgrading of South Asia as a low priority areawhere no critical US interests were perceived to be involved. This effectively brought the US-Pakistan alliance to an end. In the 1965 war the United States not only refused to come to Pakistan’s assistance but also suspended military assistance to both India and Pakistan.
US, India and Pakistan
An analytical look at the US-Pakistan-India triangle in the first phase of US-Pakistan relations (1954-65) makes it evident that as the Cold War began expanding in the early 50’s, the US policy had all along been the security of South Asia and not just of Pakistan. Washington wanted to strengthen both India and Pakistan, whether against the Soviet Union or China. So the Indian factor was never excluded from the strategic calculus of Washington in its relations with Pakistan. Ironically, the Indian factor was not absent in Pakistan’s relations with Washington either though for different reasons.
The US went ahead with an alliance with Pakistan because it needed an ally even if it could not or did not want to do everything Washington wanted. And Pakistan needed a benefactor and patron even if it would not do everything that Pakistan wanted. They kept their differences confined to official conversations while appearing to be on the same page in public posture and policies.
And that is where misperceptions and false expectations in the relationship originated as the public on both sides were not told the whole truth. In fact, in public posture the relationship was hyped up for political reasons in order to build a broad based support which it never enjoyed, especially in the US. It is intriguing how dictatorships and democracies both end up misleading their public to varying degrees about foreign policy issues, especially where there is no national consensus. In Pakistan the relationship was oversold as an alliance against India. And in the US, successive administrations overlooked or played down some of the issues like military rule, Pakistan’s relations with China or the risks of US fueling an arms race between Pakistan and India,to enlist Congressional support for aid to Pakistan.
A significant body of American historians look back at the US-Pakistan alliance and call it a mistake by Washington as it “estranged” India. This view ignores the fact that there were fundamental incompatibilities between American and Indian foreign policies. India was simply not willing to do what Pakistan could for the US. India made a decision that was in its own best interest and likewise, the US made a decision that was in its own best interest, given the exigencies of the Cold War and the policy of containment. But to suggest that Washington should have had friendly relations with India for its own sake, even if it went against American interests by alienating its ally, Pakistan, betrays lack of understanding of the Cold War. The fact is you cannot speak of “estrangement” between Washington and New Delhi without debunking the whole policy of containment, of which the alliance with Pakistan was a factor.
“Estrangement” of India was not the only misnomer. US relations with India and Pakistan have long been described as “hyphenated” by much of the American strategic community and it is now said that it has been “de-hyphenated”. These labels do not fully embrace the complexity of the US, India and Pakistan triangle. When America’s critical interests were involved with Pakistan, such as during the Afghan Jihad of the 80s, the US did not care much about Indian reaction. And when these interests were involved with India like in the Sino Indian war in 1962 Washington did not care much about Pakistani reaction. So where was the hyphen then?
It is true that now more than ever before, the relations with Indiahave their own dynamics and strategic rationale and the relations with Pakistan have their own imperatives. Both are de-hyphenated, whatever the case before. But there are some aspects of US interests in the region and in each country which are impacted by its relations with the other and relations between them. In fact India-Pakistan relations are going to be of an added importance to Washington with this so called re-balancing towards Asia. So Washington’s respective relations with both of them do get a little hyphenated whether Washington publically acknowledges this linkage or not. On the whole these labels are not helpful, nor were they in the Cold war. They have served no useful purpose other than to advance or refute the rationale for US mediation or facilitation in Pakistan-India disputes by publicists from either country who have exaggerated their case.
Pakistanis too have created their own mythology of the issues involved. During the Cold war they came to see a certain natural alliance between the US and Pakistan that was to last forever. They did not realize that Pakistan’s geo-political importance was variable, as were US global and strategic interests, and only a stable and strong Pakistan could cash in on it when everything was in synch. They also mistakenly came to believe that their alliance with Washington was supposed to be against India. That is how the public and the vast body of civil-military bureaucracy underneath the narrow swath of leadership at the top came to see it over the years.
However, a close scrutiny of the US treaty obligations to Pakistan leave no doubt that the historical US commitments were essentially in the context of Communist threat to Pakistan’s security. As far as the Mutual Defense Agreement of 1954 is concerned, it deals primarily with the supply of military equipment to Pakistan on a grant basis. The US was of the view that Pakistan violated Article 1 paragraph 2 of the agreement by using the weapons for purposes other than what they were provided for.
As far as the 1959 Agreement on bilateral cooperation is concerned, it says that in case of aggression against Pakistan, the Government of the United States, in accordance with the constitution of the US, will take such appropriate action, including the use of armed forces as may be mutually agreed upon and is envisaged in the Joint Resolution to promote peace and stability in the Middle East in order to assist the Government of Pakistan at its request.
The Joint Resolution on Middle East referred to in this Article speaks of only one eventuality of the US coming to the aid of a country under aggression and that is in the event of communist aggression. Besides the commitment of support was not automatic, and was nowhere comparable to the NATO commitment.
Regarding the US attitude towards CENTO, it never looked upon the treaty as a military alliance. Washington took it more as an instrument for radiating political influence and countering Soviet expansionist policies. The US refusal to become a formal member underlined its ambivalence to the treaty from the very beginning.
The US therefore did not really break any treaty commitments by not coming to Pakistan’s help in 1965.But this is not how the majority of Pakistanis saw it. And it led to the first stirrings of anti-Americanism in Pakistan.
By the seventies a number of changes had taken place in the global strategic balance. In the light of these changes President Nixon saw in the Pakistan-China friendship the possibility of using Pakistan as a bridge in his policy of rapprochement with China. This was the reason for the so-called United States’ “tilt” towards Pakistan in the war of 1971. The US dispatched the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal to pressure India into agreeing to a cease-fire on the Western front.
US-Pakistan relations were on the move again and continued to evolve at a lower but more stable level. Though the attitude of the Nixon Administration was sympathetic towards Pakistan during the 1971 crisis, the Congressional and public opinion was by and large hostile. The President was severely criticized by this pro-Pakistan stand.
Despite Nixon’s sympathetic attitude the US remained averse to reviving the alliance of the fifties. First the Vietnam war diverted attention from South Asia, and then the post war neo-isolationist sentiment, and unhappiness with the policies of the developing countries and a growing feeling- given formal expression by what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine- that America alone could not act as a world sheriff, Washington began looking for regional influential nations like Iran and India. This naturally diminished Pakistan’s importance.
In 1976‑77,the US Pakistan relations came under pressure again, this time on account of differences on the nuclear issue. In April 1978 the United States suspended project aid to Pakistan because of its agreement with France to get a Reprocessing Plant. France was later pressured to cancel that agreement. In April 1979, the United States cut off military and economic assistance to Pakistan as it alleged that Pakistan was engaged in an enrichment program that would give it the capability to produce weapons grade nuclear material. The action was taken under the provisions of the Symington Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act.
The nuclear issue was only the latest of many issues where the two countries’ interests had diverged. Indeed, from day one of the relationship the US had dilemmas in dealing with Pakistan. Not only did the strategic interests of both converge and diverge but there were also strong political interests in Washington impacting the relationship negatively, incited partly by the Indian and Israeli lobbies and partly by democracy activists and non proliferation high priests, which complicated the relationship with Pakistan.
Pakistan’s problem was that in the Congress as well as in the media its enemies were permanent but friends were temporary. They lived with or tolerated differences with Pakistan when there were overriding strategic interests but when these interests had been served the attention always shifted to the negatives that had remained submerged under strategic interests during the time of their close cooperation. The administration did not have political capital in Washington to fight for Pakistan when its services were no more needed; so instead of defending Pakistan it tried to placate the opponents of the relationship by slapping sanctions. Such were the complexities of the US foreign policy and the vagaries of the US-Pakistan relationship.
There were similar distortions on the Pakistan side. Over the years Pakistani elite had become addicted to the relationship. While as a Super power the US could weave in and out of the relationship Pakistan got stuck in a dependency syndrome and to the perceptions, part reality part myth, that Washington had proved an unreliable ally. Also prevalent was a myth that nothing moves in Pakistan without US approval, as was its corollary that everything that is wrong there is America’s fault. These were not just common public perceptions but were shared to an extent by the second generation of political leadership that emerged after Ayub Khan, whether civil or military, which had no direct memory of the foundations of the relationship when at least the top leadership knew the reality though the public did not. This gap between the public and official perceptions of early years of the relationship (1954-1965) started narrowing after the 70’s with the official view moving closer to the public opinion.
The Second Engagement
The Iranian revolution in February 1979 and the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 startled the US into rethinking about Pakistan. These developments brought about a far-reaching change in the geo-strategic environment of the region as the balance of power in the Gulf region, carefully constructed by the United States ‑ with Iran as the eastern pillar‑ was upset. Washington’s reaction was of outrage. It reflected in President Carter’s State of the Union address of January 23, 1980 in which he warned that“any attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America. And such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force”. To provide muscle to this new Carter doctrine, the United States Administration began plans for a United States Rapid Deployment Force to respond to the crises in the Gulf region. These events set in motion the second major engagement between the US and Pakistan.
Greatly disturbed by the loss of the Shah of Iran, uncertainty in Iran and the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, Washington realized the importance of Pakistan as an ally in containing further Soviet expansion in the direction of the West’s vulnerable oil lifelines. It was felt that Pakistan would be essential not only to seek an end to the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan but also to deter such moves in the future.
The aid program for Pakistan, therefore, had to be demonstrably substantial to serve as a powerful symbol of renewed American commitment to Pakistan. Special considerations therefore weighed behind this aid program, which in time became the third largest after Israel and Egypt.
After extensive negotiations the two countries signed an agreement in 1981 regarding a 3.2 billion dollar package of economic assistance and military sales credits. The agreement provided for annual economic assistance of a total value of 1.63 billion dollars and military sales credits totaling 1.55 billion dollars over a period of five years from 1982‑87. The Military Sales program comprised Foreign Military Sales Credit (FMS) to be extended to Pakistan on a yearly basis. Under it the United States agreed to provide two squadrons (40) of F‑16 aircraft and other military equipment required for Pakistan’s defense modernization program.
The Reagan Administration argued that Pakistan’s defense modernization would bolster the entire Southwest Asian region against Soviet pressures from Afghanistan. It also contended that Islamabad would be more likely to curtail its nuclear weapons program if the rehabilitation of its conventional armed forces was undertaken.A new post‑87 aid package was successfully concluded in March 1986 when the two sides agreed on a 4.02 billion dollar, six year aid package. The package represented a slight increase over the previous one.
After the Soviet Union departed from Afghanistan, both the US and Pakistan were forced to look for a fresh rationale for continuing the close US-Pakistan relationship. However, Pakistan’s nuclear program and economic difficulties in the United States did not help matters. The US slapped sanctions under the Pressler Amendment and overnight America’s close alliance of ten years with Pakistan in the historic struggle to defeat Soviet Union was turned into an adversarial relationship. As they could not find a rational explanation for the American action many reacted with emotions that came to find a powerful expression in a broad range of anti Americanism.
The US walked away from the region as if the Afghan Jihad never happened leaving behind a broken Afghanistan, a restive jihad, a new breed of military adventurers and Islamic revolutionaries and an embittered and increasingly Islamic Pakistan — abandoned and sanctioned. And a much strengthened and ambitious ISI left to its own devices.
You can well imagine the impact on all this of another set of sanctions on Pakistan in 1998 on account of Pakistan’s nuclear tests followed by further sanctions in October 1999 because of the military coup. The once most allied ally of the US became the most sanctioned ally.
Basking in the glory of the Cold War victory and rising prosperity at home because of the dot com economy and the so called peace dividend, Washington thought it did not need a foreign policy and did not realize what future crises were brewing up in the lands it had disengaged from. Henry Kissinger explains this feeling of triumphalism in his book “Does America need a foreign Policy” that came out just a few months before 9/11.
9/11 a Pakistani as much as an American tragedy
The 9/11 tragedy happened and the US returned once again to Pakistan with a bag of money as if nothing had happened since it last left and as if Pakistanis had been waiting that the US would realize its mistake and come home. But it wasn’t quite the “homecoming”. The US was received with very mixed emotions this time. Pakistan had changed-some changes were good, and some were not so good both as a consequence of the Afghan Jihad and poor policy choices by Pakistan.
The old “friends” got together again but the chemistry was not the same. They had changed themselves as had the international environment, for better or worse. Americans are fond of saying that 9/11 changed the world. Actually the world had been changing for a while; it is just that Washington did not notice it.
To tag on larger strategic objectives to the 9/11 response through wars that were as unnecessary as costly was not a wise move. They diluted the focus and the strategy.
Richard Haas, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a highly respected foreign policy expert, in his two landmark books, has defined wars as of choice or necessity. He maintains that not just the Iraq war but the Afghan war as well was a war of choice, something I agree with. In fact, I would refine his idea even further. I would define a war in terms of being unavoidable and avoidable. This means that some wars, even if they may be necessary, are avoidable. They ought to be avoided either because they are plainly not winnable, at least not in the military sense, or even if they are winnable there is an enormous cost in human, financial and strategic terms.
Yes, something serious had to be done after 9/11 including a demonstrable military action. But who was the enemy? Al Qaeda was the enemy. The US should have and indeed could have gone after it with all the might and nobody would have objected because after all there was broad worldwide sympathy for the US following the 9/11 attack. Not that the Taliban in Afghanistan should not have been touched or should have been tolerated or accepted. No. The fact is that dealing with the Taliban was a separate and indeed a different kind of challenge.
The solution of the Taliban problem had to be found as part of putting together a literally broken Afghanistan where the main challenge was its reconstruction and stabilization with a new ethno regional balance acceptable to all the Afghans and to all the regional players because everybody had been part of the problem including the Afghans themselves specially the so called Mujahidin leaders, the politico-military leadership that emerged during the Afghan Jihad. The Taliban were only a logical extension of decades of strife and conflict and bloody struggle for power in this unfortunate country with an external dimension. In the end, not just the Taliban but everybody let Afghanistan down including Pakistan. The US played its own part, first by its abrupt pull out at the end of the Afghan Jihad and then its shock re-engagement, neither of which was fully thought through.
The US strategy began by changing the balance of power within Afghanistan and then ended up mixing up three different objectives—fixing Afghanistan, removing and marginalizing the Taliban, and defeating Al Qaeda. They then tried to package them under a single Washington made strategy – “waron terrorism”.It was thought that everybody in Afghanistan hated the “evil” that was Taliban so much so that all Washington needed to do was to empower all non-Taliban elements, good and bad , have elections , spend some money on development, and Afghanistan would be up and running while Washington focused on hunting down the terrorists.
It did not work like that because in the rush to war, there was little effort at comprehending the nature of the threat or the enemy or the complexities of the Afghan history, society, state and its power structure. This and the lack of strategic context of the war, incoherent war aims, insufficient resources and poor execution soon undermined the war effort, especially as attention and resources shifted to the Iraq war.
The Afghan war ended up provoking a resistance, that became part insurgency and terrorism, part Jihad, and part civil war and struggle for and against reinstatement of Pashtun domination, helped by US friends and adversaries alike, such as Pakistan, Iran and the Afghan war lords and drug Mafia, in pursuit of their own agendas. Local, regional and global agendas merged. The general population, especially in the Pushtun areas, -although they did not like the Taliban – applauded them for standing up to the “occupation” forces and to the “corrupt” and “oppressive” system they had helped ascend to power in Kabul.
To its credit Washington has managed to change Afghanistan for the better but failed to lay the foundation of an enduring stability. So the risk of failure of Afghanistan and its becoming, yet again, home to forces that could threaten US and global security remains. And this was not the only failure. Pakistan suffered greatly at the hands of the spill-over of the Afghanistan war. It came to threaten Pakistan’s stability, on the one hand, with the creation of the TTP and suicide bombings across the country, and, on the other, by spreading anti Americanism among the wider population, making it vulnerable to radical influences.
The Pakistani army had its own issues with the Afghan war that ended up creating an Afghanistan that was not consistent with Pakistan’s strategic interests. The army saw the Indian threat doubled as it relocated to Afghanistan where, thanks to the war and U.S. policies, India came to increase its influence and presence. This raised fears of encirclement in Pakistan.
India’s growing relationship with the U.S., especially the nuclear agreement and Washington’s refusal to give Pakistan the same deal, fostered perceptions, not just in the army but among the general public also, that the U.S. and India were opposed to its nuclear program.
All this damaged the relationship on both ends. In Pakistan it intensified anti-Americanism and in Washington it obscured the enormity of the challenges Pakistan faced and presented. Both sides ended up adding to the trust deficit and hurting the relationship. The administration and the media also turned up the heat on Pakistan for not doing enough in the war on terrorism, and undermining the Afghanistan war, a charge both the Pakistani public and the government found insensitive.
The reality was that Pakistan’s intelligence and military cooperation with the U.S. had been critical in diminishing the operational capability of Al Qaeda. Furthermore, in the Afghan war, Pakistan was only a part of the problem not the whole problem. If the Afghan war failed it was in many ways a failure of the Afghans as well. There is enough blame and responsibility to go around among the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As President Obama came into office there was a general agreement in his administration that Pakistan had become a new national security and foreign policy challenge in the region but no clear idea of what this challenge was about and how best to meet it. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman initiative was a commendable move but by this time the relationship was infested with negativity.
The Afghan war had come to dominate the relationship far too much and any war related relations are never easy to handle, especially if the war is not going well.In addition, the President was focused far too much on his re-election.
Some of the clouds have been lifted. The US Presidential election is well behind us. The Afghan war’s mixed results have been reconciled by the Administration and Pentagon. Osama is dead. The media and the think tank community have other stories to run after and Pakistan has had a successful election whose outcome has been welcomed by the American leadership.
After the storm there is a calm in the relationship which hopefully will help the two countries reassess the gains and losses of the past one decade and see if they can find a more stable and productive way of relating to each other in pursuit of critical common objectives. They face serious issues together which neither can solve on their own.
Now that the US will be leaving Afghanistan it has to rely on Pakistan to make sure that the country does not go down. Pakistan has to make up its mind whether it wants to be part of the problem or the solution. Pakistan should have a strong interest in helping to pacify and stabilize Afghanistan because this country is no longer just an external problem for Pakistan; what happens there now affects Pakistan’s internal security.
As for Pakistan’s own problems, it lacks the capacity and perhaps the compulsion and incentive to meet the challenges it has been facing – principally internal and external security, economic recovery and rising extremism. Washington can help in this. The US should realize by now that only a strong and stable Pakistan can be an effective partner of the US in meeting the terrorist threat and that Pakistan will not become strong and stable without defeating this threat.
Washington thus has to help Pakistan’s efforts in this direction not only for Pakistan’s and its own sake but for the sake of Afghanistan as well. Similar linkages apply in case of Pakistan’s help to the US. So there is a strong mutuality of needs here.
Yet the contentious period of 2011-12 has left its mark on the relationship. Osama’s long unexplained stay in Pakistan has left the Americanspuzzled and dismayed and no doubt affected Washington’s trust in Pakistan’s establishment. Similarly, certain actions of Americans have strengthened the suspicions of many Pakistanis about Washington’s designs towards Pakistan.
Naturally this erosion in trust and America’s own fiscal difficulties will limit the size of future engagement with Pakistan and Pakistan itself may be looking for a less hyped relationship whose limits could be defined. So the best that the two sides can settle for is a somewhat scaled down but stable relationship. But to achieve even that they will have to work hard.The key is to agree on policies and find the right compromises.
Conclusion: Where do we go from here?
To begin with the two countries need to see each other in a new light if they desire to move forward positively. While neither side should demand one hundred percent from the other, a true relationship will only develop if both sides’ core interests are being served, or at least not being neglected or undermined. Traditionally Pakistan has expected too much of the US and Washington has demanded too much of Pakistan. One approach reflects weakness of a dependent ally playing on a victim complex and the other reflects a Super Power mentality of not taking NO for an answer. Not to mention the capitalist mindset that if you pay someone you should be able to get what you want– what they say in America “to get the bang for your buck”. But things do not work like that in foreign affairs. So both Pakistan and the US, in their own ways, have programmed the relationship to have recurring problems.
What does the US need to do now to make the relationship work to the mutual benefit of the two countries? First of all America has to realize that it has its interests and others have theirs. Pakistan does have some legitimate security interests. Pakistan may have—and indeed has -exaggerated these interests but that should not delegitimize them. Pakistan may have used wrong policies to pursue these interests. The US has taken issue with those policies. That is fine. But these policies should not be condemned in a way that Washington should appear, as it so often does, to have in the process savaged the interests themselves not just the policies. Not only that but to immediately start threatening Pakistan with a cut off of aid if a certain wish of the US has not been granted is also not good. All this adds to the resentment for the US and its policies.
It is time for Washington to recognize that its policy towards countries like Pakistan and other allies on hire or seasonal allies has been flawed. The US policy towards such countries lacks balance and tends to move in extremes or in bad compromises or in tight quid pro quos (dollar for dollar match) that serve neither its interests nor of its allies. Washington should do away with alternating between sanctions and alliance. When you treat other countries as hirelings you cannot build a long term or stable relationship. The other side also starts exploiting you. You have to find a good middle way.
These countries are undergoing serious changes and will no longer undermine their interests for the sake of money. Gone are the days when Washington could go work with client countries run by compliant leaderships presiding over pliant populations.In the past, in return for the advancement of its strategic interests, the United States hired the Pakistani elite from time to time, with military aid to strengthen the army and economic support to bankroll poor governance, and thus came to sustain the system. In essence the US-Pakistan relationship came to underwrite the organizing idea of Pakistan. But that idea was bound to fail sooner or later and indeed it has.
This old basis of dealing with Pakistan has now been rejected by the people of Pakistan. America’s post 9/11 wars have had a major role to play in this regard through their impact on the regional environment and Pakistan’s internal dynamics. First, by heightening sentiments against the army rule, the Bush-Mushraf partnership became the unlikeliest source for the provocation of a democratic surge in the country. Secondly, the troubled relations with Washington and unhappiness with American policies opened up a debate on security, national interest, sovereignty, the foreign policy role of the army, and relations with India. The Media and judiciary aided in this surge of democracy and nationalism which is laced with some emotion but may find a balance over time.
The challenge for America is to regain its influence and find a new way of relating to Pakistan by focusing on its people rather than only on the elite. To do so Washington must accept certain minimum nationalist aspirations of the people, encourage some of the positive changes emerging in foreign policy, and enhance its engagement with elected governments to facilitate the power shift to the civilians. This may give them strength and confidence to take hard decisions on foreign policy and domestic issues, and also give leverage to Washington to put pressure on the leadership to move in this direction. It may lead to long term developments that will not only advance Pakistan’s stability but also peace and stability in the region and America’s own interests.
As for Pakistan, its own approach to relations with the US has been no less flawed. First it must begin with an honest analysis of what really happened in the disaster that has struck Pakistan since 9/11.Yes the spillover of the Afghan war has caused horrendous problems for Pakistan but its own contribution, direct or indirect, to the US failure in Afghanistan cannot escape blame either. The spillover of the war, partly resulting from this failure and partly inherent in the situation in Afghanistan and the border areas that had been developing over the decades, merged with Jihadist currents, both transnational and the ones that had long been flowing in Pakistan created havoc in Pakistan. The Afghan war was not solely responsible; it was a tributary to this confluence and a catalyst to an eruption waiting to happen once Zia ulHaq Islamicized Pakistan’s identity and its strategic paradigm. It was a high wire act without a safety net which did not work.
Secondly, Pakistan must understand that the US has certain interests such as its relationship with India which has its own dynamics, strategic concerns about China, nonproliferation, safety of nuclear weapons, threat to its security from transnational terrorists. On such issues Washington can tweak its policies a bit but cannot go against its own interests just to please Pakistan which in fact on some of these issues is not seen as on America’s side. Whether Pakistan likes it or not, the US is going to be around in the region. Better to have them on your side than as adversaries.
Thirdly, Pakistan will have address US concerns, especially over the Jihadists. On some issues it is already doing a lot and may not be able to do more either because of capacity issues or because of incompatibility of interests with the US. However, it is crucial that Pakistan articulates its policy responses in an effective manner especially from high echelons of the civil-military leadership. Silence conveys either a lack of interest or complicity. Pakistan, thereby, ends up with the image of an adversary which it is not.
Fourthly Pakistanis also have to understand that they cannot defeat terrorism without defeating extremism. Fundamentally extremism and democracy cannot live with each other. Pakistanis have to make a choice. Jihadist and sectarian organizations have to be controlled and eventually eliminated, not just for the sake of America or India, but, for Pakistan’s own survival.
Pakistan also has to improve governance, streamline its economic policies and economic institutions and do something about the energy shortage if it wants to benefit from KLB, trade and investment. Pakistan’s economic recovery has to be internally driven. The solution has to come from within and not from America.
Pakistan needs to end the relationship of dependency with Washington and rebalance the ties. But a complete break with the US is unthinkable as Pakistan has no alternative. Its poor, struggling and debt ridden economy remains dependent on outside help not just from the West but also from international financial institutions where Washington continues to enjoy significant influence. China cannot be an alternative to the US nor does it want that kind of relationship with Pakistan. People may say that self-reliance is an alternative. For that, however, the country has to be run differently. Self-reliance does not come with slogans; it comes with policies and then actions. It is a total national effort. A new Pakistan has to emerge. We have, however, not even taken the first step towards creating that new Pakistan. It has not even been conceptualized.
The author is a former Ambassador of Pakistan who teaches at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University.