Always in a muddle
“There can be no greater error than to expect, or calculate, upon real favours from nation to nation,” said the first President of the United States, George Washington. This very precept underpins the American foreign policy. From the vantage point of realist school of thought, to which America has fervidly subscribed in the post World War II era, it is no less than a folly to look at states through rose-tinted glasses. It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only beneficiary of American ventures in other states has been none other than the United States itself. The US engagement with Pakistan needs to be analyzed through this prism.
The United States and Pakistan have been on a paradoxical roller coaster in which both are intertwined in a friendly, yet unfriendly, relationship and where stakes are always too high to part ways. However, of late, the relations between the two countries have steadily taken a nosedive with the US having slapped economic and military sanctions on Pakistan, with more curbs coming to make the country ‘mend its ways’.
On January 04, the US State Department announced to suspend security assistance to Pakistan. Later, it confirmed that it had withheld $900 million authorized under Coalition Support Funds (CSF). In the same month, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act, 1998, the US nominated Pakistan for a Special Watch List for gross violations of religious freedoms. At the end of February this year, the United States pressed for inclusion of Pakistan in a terrorism financing watch list under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Later, in April, the US imposed a new travel regime on Pakistani diplomats – something that attracted tit-for-tat restrictions by Pakistan within a few days. Pakistan also withdrew a number of facilities and privileges being enjoyed by the US diplomats. The Trump Administration is also entertaining the idea of revoking the country’s major non-NATO ally status.
Historically, relations between the two states have remained under a constant strain, save some brief rounds of bonhomie during which ‘America co-opted Pakistan as a pivot into advancement of its own strategic interests’. In fact, the US is one of the first nations to have established relations with Pakistan after its inception. Pakistan’s birth in the Cold War era necessitated its alignment with one of the two power blocs in the world, led by the erstwhile Soviet Union and the United States. However, Pakistan opted for the latter. It also entered into SEATO and CENTO defence pacts in 1954 and 1955, respectively, thereby turning into America’s principal ally. The US funds flowed to Pakistan, which peaked at over $2.3 billion in 1962. However, as the time proved, the relationship was more cosmetic and more transactional than being robust and time-tested. The US betrayal of Pakistan during the 1965 Pakistan-India War exposed the desultory and half-hearted bilateral engagement. Again in 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, the US ditched Pakistan in disillusionment by halting military aid to it, while covertly facilitating India in the secession of East Pakistan.
The factor of trust-deficit has always been extant in this bilateral relationship. Neither side truly reposes confidence in the other. The existing trust is further crippled by the historical baggage and the burden of the past. The American treachery in times of exigency when Pakistan’s survival was at stake is traumatically itched on the minds of the Pakistanis, exacerbated further by the Indo-US entente.
Pakistan’s experience with America has been bitter, to say the least. When in need, the latter makes friends with Pakistan. However, as soon as its objectives are attained, it leaves the former in the lurch. The US kept Pakistan in its good books when it was to chase away the Soviets from Afghanistan to establish its hegemony. But, once the Cold War met its fateful end, it deceitfully turned its back on Pakistan. Thus, to Pakistan, if not in need, it is no friend indeed. According to a report published in The Hill, the seeds of distrust between the two states were sowed for the first time during the 1962 Indo-Chinese war. The then American president John F. Kennedy provided India with military aid to the dismay of Pakistan. President Ayub felt the US had stabbed Pakistan in the back.
According to another report in The Diplomat, following the 9/11 saga, the countries have gotten embroiled into a snarl of the so-called War Against Terror staged primarily in Afghanistan. Conducting a relationship especially when the spectrum is littered with a number of issues and stakeholders having competing interests and priorities is never an easy job.
There is much scepticism induced partly by the Indian lobbyists in Washington and partly by the US about Pakistani establishment’s operation against the sanctuaries of Haqqani Network in North Waziristan. In a way, Trump’s attitude toward Pakistan, at least on surface, seems Afghanistan-centric. The ‘Do More’ mantra, coupled with a carrot and stick policy with coercive sanctions, appears to be the new American approach on Pakistan. The ‘do more’ call has a wide array of connotations. Firstly, it betrays Washington’s dependency on Islamabad. Secondly, the successful culmination of US offensive in Afghanistan significantly, if not wholly, hinges on Pakistan’s role therein. However, on a negative side, under the do more, America takes Pakistan to task for everything going wrong in Afghanistan, even for faults not really hers. It may be noted here that whereas the US under Trump does acknowledge Pakistan’s struggle to wipe out militants from its soil, it takes with a pinch of salt latter’s veracity of the claim to have taken an indiscriminate hard-line on all the terrorist outfits. “Our expectations are straight forward: Taliban and Haqqani Network should no more find a safe haven or engineer lethal terrorist attacks from Pakistani soil,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Army Col Rob Manning during an off-camera news conference.
While we analyze Trump’s South Asia strategy, we need to make allowance for the China factor. The US pivots towards India with a view to neutralizing the rising Chinese power in Asia by exceedingly empowering India. Indo-US bloc, which has been formed under America’s ‘China Containment Policy’ with unbridled US military and economic assistance to India, is being viewed as having detrimental strategic implications for Pakistan. The US attempts at having India admitted to Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bodes ill for Pakistan and is likely to disturb the balance of power in the South Asian region. Seeking to preempt the growing Chinese foothold in South and East Asia, the US has crowned India as a leading global power by deepening a bilateral strategic partnership and sponsoring India’s hegemony in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. Moreover, Trump considers assigning India a special role in the war-torn Afghanistan depriving, thereby, Pakistan of its strategic depth.
Nevertheless, only interests are the permanent weights on the scale of international relations. India is likely to take full stock of ‘entrapment’ in the US approach to China and Pakistan. It is absolutely clear to India that neither America nor any other party can help settle thorny issues with neighbouring countries; this can be done only through diplomatic and political means. Likewise, as shown by President Trump’s prioritization of China in the itinerary of the firsts, the United States and China are permanently locked in a relationship dictated by the geopolitical realities.
Regrettably, civil-military leadership of Pakistan has a total lack of understanding as to where American foreign policy is actually headed. America’s foreign policy, predicated on the realist paradigm, is chiefly devised to accomplish what may be termed its core objectives; the foremost priority is America’s defence and national security, supplemented by furtherance of the US hegemony throughout the world. As a matter of fact, the US dealings with the Asian countries are well calculated to secure these ends.
Quite contrarily, Pakistan still lacks a pragmatic and well-articulated foreign policy drawn up in a way to catch up with the changing dynamics of the realpolitik. The mediocre political leadership, both unwilling and inept to draw up a robust foreign policy, ceded space to the men-in-khaki to come at the helm of affairs, manipulate and even mishandle the vital foreign policy decisions. The PML-N government has not had a full-time foreign minister throughout its almost tenure to coherently and actively plead the case of Pakistan on the international front.
While Pakistan should mend fences with Russia, and ramp its bilateralism with China, it equally needs to review its US policy. A report by Financial Times reveals that Pakistan is gradually reducing its dependence on American arms, and is turning to China. Accordingly, on the Congress’s blocking the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, the latter shifted its focus from F-16s to JF-17 fighter jets of China. However, the report goes on to warn of its attendant geopolitical repercussions. Pakistan cannot afford to have a rupture in relations with the United States. Neither side can dump the other. Cultivating working economic and military relationship with the US is of great import for Pakistan. Internal stability with the show of religious tolerance is indispensable to repairing its image and winning over the confidence of the US and other nations.