By Muhammad Nawaz Khan
Marred by continuing mistrust and mutual suspicion, the strategically dysfunctional and transactional-natured Pakistan-US relations are unfortunately driven by compulsions and forced compromises, thus rifting the public posturing and private dialogues besides undercutting the durability and maturity of the ties at this critical juncture. While both sides are cognizant of the sharp downturn in their ties and acknowledge the need to smoothen the relationship but neither side seems to find a way to bring these to an even keel. Cooperation coupled with some convergence of interests is bound to be overshadowed by the ever growing complex divergences in other areas of the relationship, characteristically featured by the pay-for-performance criteria.
In recent months, the relationship between the Pakistan military on the one hand, and the pentagon and US military commanders in Afghanistan on the other, has remained strained due to the frequent pilot-less drone attacks, CIA activities in Pakistan, and Islamabad’s fear of being marginalized in any future political settlement in Afghanistan. As things stand, Islamabad genuinely feels hurt at the violation of its sovereignty – the Abbottabad raid and drone strikes – and the unfriendly activities of the American secret agents. The conflicts are too many and too complex. Chances of serious miscalculations are still strong. But all is not lost; if top brass in Washington and Islamabad, and civil society in both the countries better understand each other’s concerns and intentions and work together honestly to resolve the differences.
One of the major points of contention at present is counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in the Pakistani tribal belt as well as in Afghanistan and how both countries differ in approach vis-à-vis the future of the war-ravaged country. Relations between the US and Pakistan have continued to fray since the US Special Forces team killed Osama Bin Laden in a comfortable villa near a major Pakistani military academy. The latest round has focused on the alleged activities of ISI in the US, whereby the former is accused of sponsoring unregistered lobbyists working to shape congressional opinion over the Kashmir issue. In this cloudy horizon a multimillion dollar question continually remains unanswered that does the marginal output produced by the accused lobbyists really bring any reprieve to the agonies of the Kashmiri sufferers, something which is allegedly being termed as the real ISI-engineered underhand agenda? Even if guilty as charged, would the ISI have had some small measure of success? In reality, reverse has been the order. The US, which has never been willing to do more than repeat its conventional formulas in favour of a negotiated settlement in Kashmir, has not been willing in recent years even to do that.
The US has started tying the award of billions of dollars in security assistance to Pakistan with Islamabad’s progress on a secret scorecards of US objectives to combat Al-Qaeda and its militant allies, leading doubts to grow as to how the two countries can forge a broader alliance based on shared interests, thus exposing the hoax of lasting friendship the American leaders have been glibly talking about since 9/11.
With different objectives but common goals, both the US and Pakistan are fighting terrorism and militancy. The US is looking for a safe military exit out of a stabilized Afghanistan ensuring that Al-Qaeda does not re-emerge. Pakistan seeks to secure its own territory against an active homegrown insurgency, while keeping a wary eye on India to its east. The European allies in Afghanistan have been missing in action in Pakistan. Neither the European allies have established a relationship with Pakistan engendering mutual trust and confidence, nor have they established their minimal presence on the economic development front of Pakistan.
In the face of indigenous daunting tasks, political risks and economic slide, Islamabad can begin to turn things around if given the resources and the support it needs from the US, the International institutions, and other friends. To promote cordiality in the bilateral ties and to subdue the anti-Americanism, the US needs to treat Pakistan as an ally by introducing positive economic statecrafts of opening up its markets to more Pakistani exports, reducing tariffs on Pakistan’s exports, rolling back the stringent visa restrictions and undue checking of passengers from Pakistan. In the long-run, the domain of this cordiality needs to be further extended in Pakistan by undertaking investment in the critical sectors of energy, heavy infrastructure development, health and education. Likewise, the inflow of military hardware from the US has been mottled and not in requisite volume to meet the Pakistani expectations. Under this assistance, the US needs to provide Pakistan with more helicopters, more protection for its forces, better police and Frontier Corps training, and greater interaction with the Armed Forces through dedicated exchange programmes. The US power corridors needs to generously consider initiating energy-oriented civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan, drawing it into the safeguards network of IAEA, something which will be vigorously celebrated as a strategic landmark in promoting pro-America solid sentiments among the Pakistani masses in all times and climes to come. Moreover, the removal of US pressure against Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline that could be extended to India would be seen as a bold step toward helping the poverty-stricken multitudes of South Asia.
The US should demonstrate genuine resolve in realigning the relations of its strategic partners India and Pakistan. To start with, endeavours may be focused on the resolution of solvable disputes parallel to easing tensions on issues that require more time in getting mature. The two estranged nations may be assisted in evolving mutual confidence to chalk out their common counter-terrorism approaches, opening up their economic borders for the free flow of goods, services and transit trade. It is beyond any doubt that public opinion in the subcontinent favours peace over confrontation.
The pragmatic way forward is that both the countries need to be sincere to each other in fighting their common enemy. The breakthrough is possible only if the US genuinely own the responsibility of making Pakistan stable and prosperous not by the currently demonstrated dualistic yardstick of driving client-patron relationship on suspicions, doubts and pay-for-performance basis, but by bona fide spirit aimed at enhancing the well-being of the terrorism-affected poverty-stricken multitudes of Pakistan in particular and the region in general.
(Muhammed Nawaz Khan is a Research Analyst at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be contacted at [email protected])