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Convergence and Divergence in Pak-US Relations


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This article aims at underscoring the matters of understanding and the issues of miscellaneous opinion and policies between Pakistan and the US over the distinctive national and international contexts that directly link the two parties’ interests and spell out causes of survival of interaction between them during crucial times of ‘pull-and-push’.

The history of relations between Pakistan and the United States (US) has by and large moved a roller coaster profile, owing to multiple and complex dimensions. This multi-dimensional relation with two diverse approaches of co-dependency and trust deficit involves the two countries in converging and diverging bilateral relations.

However, this relationship is mutually valuable for both the countries and mostly dependent on the meeting-points with reference to the main issues. Yet the sole superpower status of the US and the significant position of Pakistan, as a political and strategic hub of South Asia, raise sudden and strong outbursts in this relation.

This article aims at underscoring the matters of understanding and the issues of miscellaneous opinion and policies between Pakistan and the US over the distinctive national and international contexts that directly link the two parties’ interests and spell out causes of survival of interaction between them during crucial times of ‘pull-and-push’.

Starting with the story of relations by the post-9/11 era, we can make a list of converging and diverging interests in this complicated two-pronged affair. After September 9/11, Pakistan engaged with the US in its war on terror taking a U-turn on its Afghan policy. This engagement was a coordinated move towards a union and uniformity regardless of this question that who was a decision-maker on Pakistan’s side and what could be the far-reaching upshot of that decision.
For the State Department, it was imperative to involve Pakistan in this game because of its geostrategic and diplomatic relationships with Afghanistan. For Pakistan, in the words of then Chief Executive of Pakistan Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, it was essential to support the US to survive its territorial integrity as being an economically weak country — Pakistan — could not bear any assault or economic sanctions. Besides it was a time for Pakistan to flop all the Indian propagandas against Pakistan’s Kashmir agenda, the nukes and the attempts to tarnish Pakistan’s image in the international community as a terrorist country.

This post-9/11 Pak-US ‘marriage of convenience’ started with the mutual promises and pledges, but shortly after that both the parties found each other standing at different platforms. The trust-deficit phase started on both ends over various issues with the result that the war on terror did not end in a year. As expected and estimated by Pakistan, the US alleged that the Pakistan administration and intelligence agencies were involved in the dual policymaking efforts to satisfy both the parties (the US and the Taliban). The US became suspicious about the officially-authorised use of the invested amount in Pakistan for this war, whereas the Pakistani administration expressed its dissatisfaction over the economic support from the US, and ultimately the fact that Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by the US forces was a strong point to underpin the US suspicions about the sympathisers of al-Qaeda among the people of Pakistan, the intelligence agencies and even at the government level.

 Despite the fact that Pakistan has prompted its effort to thwart the nuclear proliferation, the States Department still remains suspicious about the success of Pakistan’s effort in this connection.
 Additionally, the other one-key clash with the US as a result of this prolonged struggle against terrorism is the issue of the drone strikes in FATA, which is a matter of serious concern for the Pakistani civilians more than the administration. The Government of Pakistan denied at the outset any role of CIA in Pakistan, but later when the number of strikes and the resultant causalities escalated the government started condemning them publicly.

However, the secret deal between Pakistan and the US regarding the drone attacks was reported by a US paper, The Washington Post, on 4 October 2008. The Washington Post reported that there was a secret deal between US and Pakistan for allowing these drone attacks. This statement was discarded by the then foreign minister of Pakistan. In response to such statements, Pakistan requested the US to give them control over drones and provide them required technical training and assistance. But the US rejected this request for fear of leakage of information about the militant targets. Conceivably, the US does not want to multiply its troubles as it is already concerned about the previous issue concerning Pakistan’s reliability of the nuclear command and control system. It fears the extremist groups’ control over nukes in case of any radical takeover. This fear spilled over with the revelation of the ‘AQ Khan network’ with ‘proof’ of the nuclear proliferation activities. Rejecting all the US concerns, as to its nuclear assets that they may fall in the hands of the extremists, Pakistan claims a robust command and control system. Despite the fact that Pakistan has prompted its effort to thwart the nuclear proliferation, the States Department still remains suspicious about the success of Pakistan’s effort in this connection.

The list of divergences in the interests of Pakistan and the US extends to other issues also. The US keeps a comprehensive and institutionalised relationship with India, covering broad fields such as economic relations, political dialogues and the military exchanges. The US appreciates India’s active democracy and economic and technological expansion and aims at using her as a counterweight to China.

China’s containment policy, under which the US intends to clout the economic and political development of the People’s Republic of China to make it a divided and fragile state to keep on its hegemony in Asia, is a main contending issue between the US and Pakistan.

With regard to this policy, the bordering countries of China are on the US list to be played as counterweight. Following this objective, the US prioritises diplomatic, economic and military relations with these counties. The main proponents of this US policy are Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, South Korea, Japan, India and Vietnam. Pakistan being a strategic partner of China is out of this US ‘grand design’ for Asia. It is neither willing nor capable of joining this long-term US plan.

 The US appreciates India’s active democracy and economic and technological expansion and aims at using her as a counterweight to China.
 Similar to the China containment policy, the US keeps a deliberate strategy of action against Iran as well. The affair of US resentment against Iran contains three subjects in particular including Iran’s nuclear enrichment policy, the issue concerning protection of the US bases in Afghanistan as well as the Gulf, and any expected aggression by Iran against Israel. These issues upset the Pak-US dealings because Pakistan’s friendship with Iran is unique in a sense of close historical, cultural, religious and strategic attachment. Pakistan cannot support the anti-Iran policies of the United States.

The US resistance to the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project, which is in Pakistan’s national interest, is also a known issue. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline plan has been strongly opposed by the US. However, this pipeline is crucially advantageous for Pakistan to deliver natural gas from Iran to Pakistan. In January 2010, the US forced Pakistan to quit this project and offered her a new project for liquefied natural gas terminal and importing electricity from Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan. When Pakistan did not abandon the project, using another source by means of Saudi Arabia, the US made an endeavour against this project. It was reported that Saudi Arabia offered an alternate project to Pakistan that included a cash loan and oil facility in case of cancelling the prolific gas pipeline project with Iran. But, according to the Pakistani administration: ‘Islamabad will not give in to the US pressures to mothball the project and will finish the huge pipeline project at any cost and that the project was in line with the country’s national interest.’

Despite these facts, it is also an undeniable reality that the Pakistan-US relations eventually depend on the convergence of their national interests. Both in short and long term, providing each other mutual beneficial opportunities in several fields such as the future of Afghanistan, peace and stability in South Asia and deterring the threat of terrorism.

The US depends on Pakistan for its NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. Although there are other networks for the transport supply, they are very expensive. Moreover, it needs to focus on Pakistan for carrying on the reconciliation process with the Taliban in Afghanistan for peace and stability of Pakistan and the region in the post-transition period. In addition, Pakistan is worried about the Indian presence and activities in Afghanistan. They believe that the Indian interests in Afghanistan are beyond economic and political spheres centered against the interests of Pakistan.

Even then both the countries keep a number of possibilities for compromise within the configuration of their status and standard. Being a superpower, both economically and militarily, the US helps Pakistan in bilateral, economic, commercial, technological and academic fields, whereas Pakistan remains an important country due to its strategic location, nukes and maybe a moderate Islam policy.

By: Ishrat Abbasi

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