By Admiral Fasih Bokhari

The key players in the talks

The up coming Pakistan-USA strategic dialogue must honestly address the two countries divergent strategic perceptions, imperatives, and compulsions.

After the last meeting officials in Washington claim that a trust deficit exists. This is a poor commentary on the achievements of previous meetings. What are the determinants of this trust deficit? Who is saying one thing and doing another? Who is hiding what and why? One or both partners must now come clean if the partnership is to respond to the genuine needs of their people.

The over riding compulsion of a superpower is to deny freedom of action to a challenger. This is an understandable and expected American strategic aim. It is currently manifested in containing a rampant China, the only possible challenger on the horizon. Pakistan facilitated America’s stated mission to remove the Taliban Government and hunt down Al Qaeda; but the American mission has broadened and morphed into a very different strategic direction, while the Pakistanis have been grappling with the harsh reality of violence at home.

Pakistanis are now worried about their position in the US’s China containment strategy, and the co-opting of India into that strategy. The people of Pakistan fear further visible destabilization of their state that is seen as a part of the US strategy to remove a thorn in the side of India, so it is free to stand up to China: and USA-India can cut off China’s resources and trade corridor through Pakistan. The people of Pakistan oppose Indian regional supremacy, and any distancing from China, and thus no longer see America as an ally. The trust deficit starts from this perceived American strategic shift. This fundamental divergence is the elephant in the dialogue that the Pakistan Foreign Minister and COAS can no longer gloss over.

The trust deficit is reinforced by “mission creep” into Pakistan, willingness to spend over $100 Billion a year on the war but reluctance to spend on weaning Taliban and Al Qaeda recruits away from a livelihood as militants to ROZ’s (we don’t hear of these any more), opposition to development of economic infrastructure like IPI and TAPI, access to American markets, Kerry-Lugar funds (where are they?). Facilitation of US strategy is destroying Pakistan’s economy and political cohesion without any offsets.

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The US President set a July 2011 deadline, but on the ground huge US fortresses are being built in Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar. Is Pakistan supposed to believe that the contain China strategy will also end in July 2011?

The Pakistani side at the dialogue knows that India will never stand up to China on behalf of the USA, So in all honesty must wean their interlocutors away from unrealistic expectations. India is achieving its strategic ends through America vis-à-vis Pakistan.  America will achieve nothing through India vis-à-vis China.  Co-opting India to contain China should not result in misbalancing relations in South Asia to the detriment of Pakistan; specially the fragile conventional and strategic deterrence paradigm.  America remains silent on Indian human rights abuses in Kashmir and persistent violation of UN resolutions on a Plebiscite; but has continued pressure on Pakistan for “NSAs” and nuclear issues. Similarly the occupying power allowing India ingress into Afghanistan is seen as collusion in India’s historic desire to create a two front external threat for Pakistan.

The other elephant in the dialogue is Iran. US strategy to control hydrocarbon resources of the Gulf and Caspian are understandable. The strategy of containing Iran’s ability to upset its Arab and Israeli allies can also be understood.  However, silence on Indian de-stabilization of Baluchistan has no relevance or impact on the containment of Iran strategy. Pressure against the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is being read in Islamabad as insensitivity to the economic imperatives of Pakistan.

The Pakistan side must not be apologetic about its relations with China and Iran. China is a time tested friend with many convergences in strategic aims. The people, of what are Iran and Pakistan today, share intimate history that goes far back in time. It is obvious that Pakistan and American perspectives on China and Iran are far apart.

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That leaves Afghanistan. The people and tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan are tied by their history, languages, culture, religion, economy, and strategic aims. The current aim of both is to see the orderly and early end of occupation of Afghanistan and arrest of mission creep into Pakistan. The key to Afghanistan’s future does not lie in Washington or Delhi. The Pakistani imperative that a post war Afghan Government, weighted in favor of the Northern Alliance or India, will not lead to peace in the region must be clearly understood. A repeat of the blowback after the Soviet withdrawal cannot be tolerated. Only the Afghans can decide their future, and the future of their relations with other countries. Given this backdrop it is a no brainer that there is a fundamental divergence on the current war and possible exit strategies in “AfPak”.

Overall the US and Pakistan strategic aims do not lend credence to any perception of “strategic partnership”. The US must come clean that it is here to contain China and Iran, and strengthen India. Those are not the strategic aims of Pakistan. As a superpower the US claims license to “control” the outcomes in Asia, but it has only demonstrated a weakening economic and military capacity to do so.  This “burn-out” will run its course. The countries of the region have problems amongst themselves that cannot be resolved if there is no external interference. All would prefer emphasis on economic uplift in an environment of peace. That has perhaps not been the demonstrated strategic aim of the US for this region.

The time to end the war, occupation, and “control” strategy has arrived. America is losing friends, its moral standing, and its image as a reliable partner, and may thus become marginalized from the emerging Asia, if it continues its current strategy that few in Asia find acceptable.

Europe has distanced itself from the US strategy because it wants a future of economic co-operation with Asia. In fact this distancing may signal the decline of NATO that experts are grappling with in formulating the upcoming “Strategic Concept” to be deliberated at the NATO summit on 20th November in Lisbon.

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The Pak-US strategic dialogue, coming before the Lisbon summit, should end on a note of caution for America and NATO.  A strategy of economic co-operation and political non-interference in Asia, including China and Iran, would pay the people of America and Europe far greater dividends in the future, than the current self defeating strategy of “control”.

In the new world time and events are moving fast. The American Century based on the flawed and anti-human strategies of imperialism has ended within a decade. Military superiority allows killing many people, but cannot bomb there ideologies, cultures, and civilization out of them. These are realities that Washington must clearly understand.

The Pakistan side must go into the dialogue with a clear understanding that it can no longer facilitate imperial strategy in Asia. Pakistan too is losing friends, its moral standing, and its image as a reliable partner, and may thus also become marginalized from the emerging Asia, if it continues its current suicidal strategy that few in Asia find acceptable.

The only visible remaining convergence in the Washington-Islamabad relationship appears to be of hiding many skeletons in their cupboards before it is too late. If this is a strategic partnership for improving people’s lives, it should focus on ending the war and re-engineering political and economic relations with China and Iran, re-constructing the Pakistan and Afghan economies that have been ravaged by three decades of imperial war games, and redesigning Pakistan and America’s relationships with the countries of this region.

Admiral Fasih Bokhari was the Chief of Naval Staff Pakistan Navy. During his service besides other command and staff appointments, he was also Commander Submarines. Post retirement he has been very active in the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association that he headed for 2 years. Admiral Fasih has also been active in the South Asia Forums.