pak-US-relationsPak-US relations transitory in nature

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Delving into the history of Pak-US relations spread over six decades one finds that the US relationship was always transitory in nature. After the birth of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan managed to keep foreign influence at bay. Through their strength of superior leadership and character, they overcame plethora of teething problems mostly created by the British and India. The country not only survived but succeeded in developing its own economic feet. After the death of Liaquat Ali in October 1951, regionalism raised its ugly head and it became easier for the US to expand its perverse influence in Pakistan because of self-serving mini-mind leaders.

The US influence over Pakistan has remained ever pervasive. Not only governments have come and gone under the directions of Washington, its economic health has also been regulated by it. Whenever the US desired to fulfill its interests in this region with the help of Pakistan, it uplifted its fortunes by doling out aid generously and winking at aid giving agencies to do the same. Aid injections are however strictly regulated in a manner to keep Pakistan afloat but dependent. Aid flow and goodwill prevailed as long as Pakistan leadership abided to its commands and served its interests loyally.

No sooner the US objectives are achieved, or it finds that Pakistan’s enthusiasm in performance of its assigned tasks is waning, or is becoming reluctant or defiant, or tilting towards some other power; its friendship turns into coldness and at times hostility. The chosen leader suddenly turns from an asset into a liability and is either humiliatingly ousted from power or murdered. Pakistan was punished when it lost its utility value, or for its defiance through sanctions, media war, coercion and fomenting internal instability to bleed its economy.

The US needed Pakistan’s services in early 1950s because of Communist threat and made it member of SEATO and CENTO. Pakistan joined the western pacts under the belief that it would remain secure from expansionist India. Moreover, all our political leaders and Governor/President after Liaquat Ali were pro-US. The US had no other alternative in this vital region since India was the camp follower of former Soviet Union and had refused to become part of defensive arc stretching from Turkey and Iran to Pakistan.

Even in those hey days during which Pakistan was termed as the most allied ally of the allies, the US stance was unfair. During 1962 Indo-China border conflict, the US falsely assured Ayub Khan that if he didn’t take advantage of the precarious military situation of India, it will help in resolving Kashmir dispute. Pakistan thus missed a golden chance to reclaim Kashmir. The US started building up Indian military in the aftermath of its humiliating defeat in the conflict, which enabled Indian Army to raise five additional infantry divisions between 1962 and 1965 and tilt the military balance in its favor.

During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the US stopped economic as well as military aid including spare parts to Pakistan knowing that USSR was continuing to deliver India’s entire military needs. The US did not take into account that Pak military was entirely dependent upon US manufactured weaponry and was five times inferior to India both in men and material. Lowering of stocks of war munitions prevented Pakistan military from taking the war into Indian Territory and accepted Indian requested ceasefire after Indian offensives were effectively blunted on all fronts. Stoppage of economic assistance seriously impacted Ayub’s ambitious second five-year development program (1965-1970), which had all the potential to address east-west inequities and to turn Pakistan into an Asian tiger.

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President Ayub Khan remained in very good books of USA as long as he leaned heavily on USA but was unceremoniously ousted from power when he started tilting towards China. Moscow felt highly offended when Pakistan under Gen Yahya Khan acted as a conduit in 1971 to bring a thaw in China-US relations and decided to punish Pakistan. The turning point in Pak-US relations came during the 1971 Indo-Pak war when Pakistan’s repeated requests to help save marooned East Pakistan from falling were ignored by Washington while Moscow provided full support to India. ZA Bhutto was made a horrible example when he refused to stop nuclear program which started in 1976 in response to India’s nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1974.

After betraying Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971 wars against India, the US again befriended Pakistan in 1981 to help fight the proxy war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. All the sins of President Ziaul Haq were ignored when he agreed to make Pakistan the frontline state of the US led Free World and assist the Mujahideen. His inclination towards Islam and continuance of nuclear program at Kahuta were accepted by Reagan and he was eulogized as a great Mujahid.

No sooner the objectives were accomplished in 1988; Pakistan’s sacrifices were forgotten. Zia the prime mover of Afghan Jihad was first terrorized through Ojhri Camp disaster in May 1988 and when he didn’t buckle, ‘Get Zia’ plan was conceived. He died in a C-130 plane crash on August 17, 1988. Although the crash of the most secure aircraft still remains a mystery, it is generally believed that CIA was behind it since Zia’s image in the Muslim world had shot up sky high and he had successfully weaponized nuclear program. He was all set to impose Shariah in Pakistan and had made a permanent place in the hearts of Afghans. He had become a danger man for the US and hence had to be got rid of.

Pakistan was abandoned with indecent haste and harsh sanctions were imposed under Pressler Amendment to force it to roll back its expensive nuclear program. Benazir Bhutto was twice brought into power in 1990s to denuclearize Pakistan, but each time she refused to oblige. Nawaz Sharif became a marked man after he refused to succumb to US-UK pressure and carried out six nuclear tests in May 1998 in response to Indian tests. To punish him, conditions were created for his removal from power and takeover by Gen Musharraf in October 1999. This crucial change was affected in anticipation to 9/11 and the agenda the US had chalked out against the Muslims. Nawaz survived death sentence by the skin of his teeth owing to Saudi intervention.

After 9/11, the US once again offered its hand of friendship. President Bush led team deceived Gen Musharraf that it will make Pakistan its strategic partner and resolve all its economic problems if it agreed to become the frontline state in the war on terror. Pakistan was assured that this time the US would forge lasting relationship based on mutual trust and friendship and will not repeat past mistakes. Pakistan was taken out of the intensive care unit and given a new lease of life for next few years but the economic progress achieved during Musharraf regime proved short-lived since economy was consumer oriented.

Benazir Bhutto was all set to take over as PM for the third time, but was bumped off on December 27, 2007 since she had once again started to deflect from the route prescribed by USA. She was required to share power with Musharraf and not to confront him. Surprisingly, among the list of suspects, CIA doesn’t figure out. Five years and nine months have gone past and her murderers have still not been traced. After her murder, NRO cleansed dream team of PPP-MQM-ANP was installed by USA in March 2008 to serve its interests without demur.

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Musharraf was allowed to go in exile since in that timeframe he had become a liability. He was to be re-launched at an appropriate time. Whatever economic gains made during his tenure went down the drain because of poor governance, incompetence and corruption of the PPP led regime. Pakistan lost many times more than what it had gained through US aid.

Although Pakistan rendered huge sacrifices in fighting US imposed war, the US neither acknowledged its sacrifices nor compensated it for the human and material losses it incurred since the puppet regime was taken for granted. The relations remained uneasy all along due to distrustful and bossy attitude of the US and GHQ’s reluctance to obey Washington’s command blindly. Frostiness turned into near hostility in 2011 as a consequence to Raymond Davis incident, stealth attack in Abbottabad and attack on Salala border post killing 24 Pak soldiers. Between December 2011 and July 2012, Pak-US relations were at lowest ebb. Thereafter the relations have begun to improve steadily although not without hiccups.

This process of giving artificial respiration through US aid,  IMF, World Bank, Paris Club, ADB when Pakistan’s services are needed followed by policy of coercion to compel it to tow its line has been going on since 1953. It is a coincidence that whenever the US had to fulfill its strategic interests in this region, Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator. One window operation suited Washington to elicit quick responses rather than having to deal with multi-layered parliamentary system. For its crucial endgame in Afghanistan, the US tried its best to force Gen Ashfaq Kayani to take over the reins of power but the latter refused to oblige and let the change take place through democratic process.

Lot of water has flown in River Indus since September 2001, when the US at its pinnacle of glory had ordered Pakistan to facilitate its intrusion into Afghanistan. After twelve years, the US has lost its splendor and is caught up in dire strait because of higgledy-piggledy situation in Afghanistan. It is requesting Pakistan which it has been drubbing on account of its uncommitted sins all these years to facilitate its safe departure from Afghanistan. It is urging Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to talk and arrive at a negotiated political settlement so that it could leave behind stable Afghanistan and friendly government. Under the changed environment there is visible change in the behavior of US officials. Rate of drone strikes has come down significantly and targets are chosen with care.

Tone and tenor of US officials have become affable and conciliatory. Despite the apparent thaw in relations, it will be early to jump to conclusion that all friction points have been removed and trust restored. Such assuring words and promises had been uttered by US officials’ way back in 2001 but their stance started changing after 2004. Thereon, it became difficult for Pakistan to ascertain whether it was an ally or foe of USA.

Even after its reassurance that the US would refrain from committing past mistakes and would make amends for the excesses committed, it keeps India and Afghanistan on higher priority. TTP and BLA are still being funded and used to destabilize Pakistan through proxy war. Ongoing escalation of tension along the LoC together with tantrums of unpredictable Karzai and spate of terrorist acts in various parts of Pakistan are designed to put pressure on the new government to pick up cudgels against the militants in FATA rather than initiating peace talks. Acceleration of militancy in Balochistan is aimed at giving a message that establishment of nationalist government led by Dr Malik has not lessened the resolve of separatists seeking independence of Balochistan.

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Other objectives are to sabotage IP gas pipeline and Gawadar projects. Likewise, stepped up terrorist acts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are aimed at undermining PTI government advocating peace talks with Taliban. Karachi is being bled to further bleed the economy of Pakistan. Projected peace talks with TTP are resented and US toadies are applying all tricks to kill the initiative taken by All Parties Conference (APC).

Apart from application of pressure tactics to keep Pakistan tamed, the US is bent upon making India a global power, a permanent member of UNSC, a counterweight to China and a dominant player in Afghanistan. To this end, the US has taken practical steps to strengthen India economically and militarily. It would like settlement of Kashmir issue but on Indian terms. It will not benefit Pakistan at the cost of annoying India. In other words, as a policy it would always prefer India over Pakistan and in case of Indo-Pak war it will stand behind India.

In the backdrop of foreign policy framework of USA in which Pakistan doesn’t figure out, we must be careful in jumping to wishful conclusions. We shouldn’t lose sight of prudence and should remain vigilant not to again get deceived by sweet talk of US leaders asserting that they want to move to ‘full partnership’ with Pakistan. Rather, our leadership should be mentally prepared to get ditched once again after completion of ISAF’s drawdown in December 2014. Rather than keeping all our eggs in the basket of untrustworthy USA, our policy makers formulating national security policy should distribute the eggs pragmatically and give top priority to national interests.

Holding of Defence Committee National Security Council to take stock of internal and external security issues, on-going Rangers led operation in Karachi under the captaincy of Chief Minister Sindh to tackle lawlessness after taking all stakeholders on board, and holding of APC to discuss ways and means to tackle extremism and terrorism are steps in the right direction. It was satisfying to hear all the participants of APC condemning drones as illegal and agreeing to take up the matter to the UN, terming terrorism as a blowback from Afghan war and endorsing holding talks with Taliban with no strings attached. It was rightly decided to abandon policy of fight-and-fight or fight-and-talk and to give peace a chance.

Reaffirmation of complete trust and confidence in the armed forces and extending full support to them in tackling security challenges was gratifying. Praying for the martyrs in war on terror and extending sympathies to the bereaved families and calling upon provincial governments to provide assistance to them were praiseworthy gestures. It is also good to hear that TTP has welcomed the offer of talks and expressed willingness to hold negotiations without conditions.

Having made all the noble declarations, what is now needed is sincere and honest implementation of resolution in letter and spirit and not like the previous two joint resolutions of APC/Parliament. While the news of troops falling back from Shangla, Dir and Malakand in October in phase 1 and from Swat in phase 2 was being greeted, ill-fated martyrdom of Maj Gen Sanaullah, Lt Col Tauseef and L/Naik Imran in Upper Dir on 15 September on account of IED has vitiated the atmosphere of peace talks. IED was in all probability planted by fugitive Fazlullah’s men assisted by external forces to sabotage peace talks. Anti-state elements and spoilers need to be kept under strict scrutiny and exposed.

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