BY M FAZAL ELAHI,
A question that continues to nudge the minds of the Pakistani nation even after seven decades of its existence is “Would U.S.-Pakistan relations ever reach the pinnacle of genuine and commendable amity”? The question is indeed central to Pakistan’s interest. It must, therefore, be knowledgeably answered if sustainable and meaningful relations were to be established between the United States of America (USA) and Pakistan.
History of U.S.-Pakistan relations, spanning over seven decades, is replete with ignominious episodes of highs and lows. Evidently, and not so astonishingly, if the U.S. has occasionally supported Pakistan, monetarily or otherwise, during this period is not because supporting Pakistan was in the strategic interest of the US, but because Pakistan served the U.S. interest very well, whenever required. Pakistan, as known to all and sundry, has never been as strategically important to the US as India. It, in fact, has been used by the U.S. from time to time to attain its own objectives. On the contrary, India has always been supported and pampered by the U.S. both for strategic as well as business reasons.
India has always been and will continue to be strategically significant for the U.S. The strongest of all the reasons for this is that the US strongly desires to see India emerge as a power to reckon with in the region. It wishes to do so with the expressed intent of keeping a tab on China, a country that the US sees rapidly and conspicuously emerging as a world power. How could the US, the incumbent super power of the world, ever let China endanger its super power status? Naturally, therefore, a militarily and economically robust India serves the strategic interests of the US better than Pakistan or for that matter any other country in the region.
There are umpteen instances that could be highlighted to prove the arguments regarding US-Pakistan relations cited above. However, an instance that perfectly and justifiably fits into our narrative vis-à-vis US-Pakistan relations is particularly the ‘Soviet–Afghan War’ that lasted for over nine years, December 1979 to February 1989, in which Pakistan and Saudi Arabia joined the US to back some insurgent groups known collectively as the mujahedeen, as well as smaller Maoist groups, to fight a guerrilla war against the Soviet Army and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan government, mostly in the rural countryside. This, in fact, made it a Cold War proxy war. As reported in the national and international media, between 562,000 and 2,000,000 civilians were killed and millions of Afghans fled the country as refugees, mostly to Pakistan and Iran.
A research paper jointly penned by Lubna Sunawar and Tatiana Coutto, and published in The Journal of International Relations and Development Studies (a publication by Arcadia University and the American Graduate School in Paris) cogently states that the role of the U.S in Pakistan’s foreign policy throughout the Cold War, the ‘war against the USSR’ in Afghanistan – regarded as the first test case for Pakistan during the Cold War as a frontline ally of the U.S, and currently, the fight against terrorism should not be understated. Nevertheless, the paper states, Pakistan-U.S relations have been described as ‘a tale of exaggerated expectations, broken promises and disastrous misunderstandings’. The paper further states that in this love-hate relationship, attempts to establish cordial ties and periods of economic and military assistance and cooperation have been interspersed with phases characterized by ‘friction and mutual distrust’.
Even today, for obvious reasons, the U.S. doesn’t seem to be too keen to alter its lucidly interest-based relations with Pakistan to genuine and commendable amity. The two recent palpable measures taken by the U.S. (a) suspension of U.S. military training programs for Pakistani officers (valued at approximately $2.41 million) and (b) cancellation of $300 million in U.S. aid to Pakistan profoundly endorses this view. As always, through such castigatory measures the United States of America is perpetually engaged in coercing Pakistan to bend on its knees and to follow its diktats out-and-out.
Pakistan has suffered inestimably by being an ally of the U.S. in the Soviet-Afghan War and the war against terrorism. The Soviet-Afghan War cost Pakistan dearly. As reported in the national and international media, by the end of 2001, there were over four million Afghans in Pakistan. Most have returned to Afghanistan since 2002. The UNHCR reported in February 2017 that about 1.3 million registered Afghan citizens still remained in Pakistan.
As known to the world, Pakistan has paid heavily for being an ally of the U.S. in the ongoing war against terrorism in Afghanistan. In the process of fighting this dreadful war for the U.S. Pakistan has suffered colossally both in money terms and in terms of loss of innocent human lives. For all the sacrifices that Pakistan has made, over the decades, fighting the U.S’ war in Afghanistan and the Soviet-Afghan War, Pakistan has gained nothing. Lubna Sunawar and Tatiana Coutto couldn’t be more apt, when they comment in their paper “Pakistan-U.S. relations have been a tale of exaggerated expectations, broken promises and disastrous misunderstandings”.
What then does the brief history of U.S-Pakistan relations enunciated above reveal? It lucidly divulges that Pakistan has never been and it never will be in the roster of “Strategic Partners” of the U.S. Pakistan has always been exploited by the U.S., to its advantage, time and again. It would be prepared to do so, yet again, whenever the need arises. Should and could, therefore, the U.S. be blamed for its prejudiced and dogmatic stance against Pakistan? I don’t think so. Why? Because, as stated earlier, Pakistan is not of strategic importance to the U.S. but India is, for obvious reasons. For all that Pakistan has done and continues to do, it is being persistently asked by the U.S. to do more. Not only this, Pakistan is also being blamed for being a ‘safe haven’ for terrorists and supporting some terrorist groups; a charge that Pakistan continues to deny out-and-out. But the U.S. is not ready to accept Pakistan’s denial. It simply doesn’t trust Pakistan.
What should then Pakistan do in this unfortunate ambience of distrust? It should take tangible measures to prove to the U.S. that its assertion vis-à-vis Pakistan’s involvement in supporting some terrorist groups operating from its soil is erroneous and based on delusion. This can be done by undertaking across-the-board and exhaustive action against all terrorist groups allegedly operating from Pakistan’s soil. Pakistan must also completely wipe out all terrorist ‘safe havens’ from its soil if, as alleged by the U.S., they exist in the country.
On the other hand, Pakistan should urgently revisit its foreign policy. It should, on the one hand, seriously consider building new relationships and, on the other, further bolster its existing relationship with nations with which it has always had a strong and mutually beneficial alliance. Forming new alliances is a natural phenomenon in the context of international relations. So far as Pakistan is concerned, under the current rapidly changing world order and in the backdrop of tepid U.S. – Pakistan relations, making new alignments in its relations with countries of the world that matter and further bolstering its relations with countries with which it has had long and outstanding relations is in order. Pakistan must make indefatigable endeavors to further strengthen its relations with its time-tested, all-weather friend China, and also with other friendly and altruistic countries of the region and the Islamic world, particularly Saudi Arabia. More importantly, Pakistan must make concerted efforts to augment its relations with Russia, relations of which seem to be warming up not only with China but, to some extent, with Pakistan as well.
This indeed doesn’t mean that Pakistan should rebuff the U.S. As a matter of fact, it cannot afford to do so. It is a stark reality that the United States of America is a super power, and Pakistan certainly is not oblivious of this palpable fact either. It would, therefore, be in the supreme interest of Pakistan to make all out efforts to maintain cordial relations with the U.S. without, of course, compromising its dignity.
— The writer is an analyst/freelance columnist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
BY M FAZAL ELAHI,