It has been one of the most difficult tasks for almost all successive governments in Pakistan to effectively manage relations with the United States. Even though Pakistan has helped the US achieve its overriding security and economic objectives in South Asia since the 1950s, Washington has unfairly blamed Islamabad for propping up the Afghan Taliban to perpetuate the Afghan insurgency.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Congress, recently, that US diplomats were being treated badly in Islamabad. Pakistan’s Foreign Office, however, termed these allegations as unfounded. The FO also expressed reservations on the undue restrictions placed on the movement of Pakistani diplomats in Washington. The ongoing climate of distrust and blame game between the two Cold War partners suggests that the already fraught Pak-US relations will further deteriorate owing to the aggressive attitude adopted by the Trump administration toward Pakistan for its alleged flirtation with the Afghan Taliban.
The Pak-US relations have been on a slippery slope since Trump accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban even though it has received $33 billion in aid from the US. When Pakistan refused to budge to US dictations on the issue of Taliban, the Trump administration suspended economic aid to Pakistan and made all-out efforts to put it on the FATF ‘Grey List’ with the support of its Western allies.
Since Pakistan seems to have decided not to fall in line with the Trump Administration’s South Asia strategy, the latter will probably go for more punitive measures to punish Islamabad economically, and stymie its alignment with Russia and China in the region. At this critical juncture, the leadership in Islamabad should consult foreign policy experts, relevant think tanks and seasoned academics of international relations to ensure that the country is safeguarded from the wrath of the wounded superpower.
Some analysts feel that US diplomats in Islamabad have started flagrantly disregarding Pakistan’s domestic laws. Perhaps, these diplomats think that they should have carte blanche to run over ordinary Pakistanis with their cars because Pakistan is financially dependent on their country. Colonel Joseph Emanuel Hall, the US military attaché in Islamabad, jumped a traffic light in Islamabad, killing a young Pakistani citizen and injuring another. Previously, on January 27, 2011, a CIA contractor named Raymond Davis had killed two men in Lahore. Although diplomats cannot be arrested and punished for civil and criminal acts under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it doesn’t mean that envoys are allowed to wilfully violate the law of the receiving state – as US diplomats have done in Pakistan.
The lingering Afghan insurgency is the major irritant in Pak-US relations. Being a world power with practical experience of conflicts all over the world, the US is fully alive to the fact that it cannot militarily crush the Taliban on account of Afghanistan’s treacherous landscape and all-out regional support to them, as well as the stiff resistance of the Pakhtuns. So, the US has continued to heap blame on Pakistan in order to hide its abject failure in terms of mopping up the Taliban and reconstructing a war-torn Afghanistan.
Despite America’s bullying and antagonistic attitude, Pakistan sorely needs US support to accelerate its economic growth and safeguard its territory from the spectre of terrorism and insurgency. Islamabad is aware that the US has the power and wherewithal to cripple a country economically and destabilise it on the security front. If Pakistan snubs the US and completely tilts toward China and Russia, the US will presumably resort to openly supporting low-level insurgency in Balochistan, terrorism in the tribal areas and sanctioning Pakistan on the flimsy grounds of abetting terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
Since the 1950s, Pakistan did not have efficient and pragmatic foreign policy makers. The country’s deeply flawed policy of aligning with the US against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War deprived the country of the USSR’s technological, diplomatic, economic and military assistance. Islamabad’s alignment with Washington against the threat of Communism and its hostile relations with India made the country a security state. Pakistan was militarily dependent on the US and it emboldened Washington to pile up sanctions on Islamabad under the Symington, Solar, Glenn and Pressler Amendments in order to inhibit Pakistan from pursuing its nuclear programme.
Our successive governments have dismally failed to benefit from the integration of the world economy, especially since the 1980s. The country should grasp the interconnectedness of the global economy by cultivating robust trade and military ties with Russia and China, as well as East Asian and OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. The diversification in external relations would compel the US to respect and value its relations with Pakistan. This would also bar the US from dictating and pressuring Pakistan, as such a bullying behaviour would further push the latter toward Russia and China.
It is time for us also to realise that without economic self-sufficiency, Pakistan can never be able to independently formulate and execute its foreign policy. The Trump administration has made Pakistan a laughing stock worldwide by accusing Islamabad of only lying and deceiving Washington, despite receiving billions of dollars in economic and military aid.
Has our leadership ever considered why the US gives special importance to India in South Asia? India’s huge consumer market, potentially expanding defence sector and economic self-reliance have attracted the US to make India its strategic partner, supporting the Indian bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and making India a regional hegemon.
Our economic dependence on Saudi Arabia, China and the US has deprived us of an independent and proactive foreign policy. At present, the US does not respect our territorial sovereignty, national interest and status as a nuclear power. This is mainly because of our heavy reliance on the US.
So, the government must broaden the tax base, industrialize the country, eradicate massive corruption, and make Pakistan a regional trade hub. The US would never dare to browbeat and dictate an economically strong Pakistan. Our strong economic position will also goad the US into supporting our bid to join the NSG.
The country’s leadership has also failed to understand the value of the global public opinion. Though it is imperative to win wars on the battlefield, it is equally important to dominate and influence public opinions across the world – especially in the West. On account of its adroit diplomacy and a robust education system, India has defeated Pakistan on US talk shows and in think tanks. Due to such Indian diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, the Trump administration is reluctant to accept its battlefield successes and sacrifices against terrorists and militant groups in the tribal areas.
Hence, in addition to political and military diplomacy, Pakistan should promote public diplomacy so as to effectively project the country’s positive image in Western capitals. Such an initiative requires greater interaction at the civil society level. Pakistan’s intellectuals, academic circles, media persons and diaspora must be proactive in their interaction with US think tanks such as the Brookings, Carnegie and Hudson Institute as these institutions play a significant role in shaping domestic and foreign policies of the United States.
Pakistan should also take stock of the evolving multipolar world and the shifting regional alignments in Asia. Apart from establishing working relations with China, Russia and various East Asian and European countries, Islamabad should seek ways to cooperate with Washington in convergent areas and dexterously manage tensions where the interests of both countries diverge.