Future of US-Pakistan Relations

(Abid Latif, Islamabad)

By Muhammad Latif

In international relations there are no permanent friends or foes. To further the national aims and objectives countries keep changing their alliances to best suit their national interests. The history of US-Pakistan relations is no different. Since its infancy Pakistan opted for the US bloc preferring it over the then second superpower Soviet Union. In the hindsight it will not be unrealistic to conclude that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for this strategic decision. Being member of SEATO and CENTO Pakistan extended full support to the US against the USSR by providing it's airbases to US Air Force; U-2 flight from Badaber in 1960 is a case in point.

However, when India was in the process of helping Mukti Bahini to create Bangladesh and Pakistan Army got stranded in Dhaka, the promised 7th Fleet never came to its rescue. Again in early 70s, Pakistan played a pivotal role in bringing China and the US together and in late 70s Pakistan became a frontline state to counter the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, which ultimately led to the disintegration of Soviet Empire. While Pakistan had to pay a heavy price in terms of accommodating over 4 million Afghan refugees who brought along Kalashnikov drugs culture, sectarianism and other social evils besides handling of Mujahideen created and funded by the US and Saudi Arabia respectively.

Surprisingly, the US reward came in the form of Pressler Amendment and resultant sanctions against Pakistan. While Russia always took side with India on Kashmir issue and vetoed almost all the resolutions at UN forum, the US has been advising Pakistan to settle the dispute through bilateral talks. When India went nuclear and Pakistan responded in quid pro quo, it again had to face a lot of sanctions by the US and its allies. Contrarily, the US has been supporting India become member of the prestigious Nuclear Suppliers Group while Pakistan is always advised to cap its nuclear programme.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was again forced to support the US in overthrowing the Taliban government in Afghanistan by paying an overwhelmingly higher price by fighting the War on Terror in its Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan till today. In the process, thousands of Pakistani soldiers and civilians fell prey to the menace of terrorism besides billions of dollars loss to its economy. The reward as usual is no different; i.e. drone attacks killing hundreds of innocent civilians in the so called collateral damage, maligning Pakistan of harbouring terrorists in safe havens, the rhetoric of do more, Operation Neptune Spear on 2 May 2011 inside Pakistan against Osama bin Laden, limiting the role of Pakistan in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan after the drawdown and giving a bigger piece of pie to India.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration eagerly concluded strategic bilateral pacts with India to include Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, India designated as' major defence partner' to facilitate defence technology, combat exercises and war games, joint projects to include Aircraft Carrier technologies and jet engines, futuristic helicopters, infantry combat vehicles, F-16/ F-18 fighter production line and billions of dollars arms deals to include C-17 globe master, Poseidon-8, C-130 Super Hercules, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters while denying the same to Pakistan which has created a state of strategic imbalance in the nuclear South East Asian region. So much for the past.

For now, the Donald Trump syndrome has created an entirely new situation for the whole world. He has openly declared Islam/ Muslims as enemy and banned entry of citizens of seven Islamic countries in the US. Muslims are being harassed in the US and there are widespread demonstrations across US and EU condemning the policies of Donald Trump. For Pakistan his views are no different; in an interview, he didn't mince his words by declaring nuclear Pakistan as most dangerous country next to Iran and was openly planning to counter Pakistan by strengthening India by equipping its already strong conventional forces. Considering the prevailing environment and taking history as a guide, one doesn't have to be a strategist or political analyst to predict the future of US-Pakistan relations.

In this backdrop, Pakistan should remain ready to face coercive actions by India to possibly include activation of LoC, misadventure of precision strikes/ conduct hot pursuit operations across the LOC to discredit Pakistan Army, terrorist activities on soft targets, sectarian killings, creating law and order situation in economic hub of Pakistan; Karachi through ethnic/ linguistic groups, destabilizing Balochistan by funding, training and arming separatists, cross border actions in FATA from Afghanistan and denying Pakistan of its due water share according to Indus Water Treaty etc, and there could be a long list on how an Indo-US nexus can coerce Pakistan by creating a situation of civil war in the country to disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons through an International Peace Keeping Force.

Now what should Pakistan do to counter the emerging scenarios? Pakistan should immediately appoint a dynamic foreign minister capable of leading the team of foreign missions to create a positive perception about Pakistan in the US and EU. CPEC could serve as a game changer for Pakistan; potential beneficiaries of CPEC should be brought together to counter any threat to destabilize Pakistan. We should also endeavour to make a strategic alliance with Russia and China to counter the impending threat.

On the home front, Pakistan should speed up the process of reforms in FATA and bring it under a mutually agreed political umbrella to free its forces from Western front. Dissident Baloch leaders be brought into the political mainstream. Simultaneously, Baloch youth may be harnessed ad engaged in the economic activity generated by CPEC to dispel the feelings of deprivation.

National Action Plan should be taken to its logical conclusion to clear the menace of terrorism from the Pakistani soil once and for all. Speedy justice is the key to the success of National Action Plan. Stable Karachi and Pakistan Stock Market can also attract a lot of Direct Foreign Investment thereby broadening international stakes for Pakistan. All elements of national power need to work hand in glove to build a stable Pakistan, which is mutually beneficial to all nations across the globe.

(The writer is a defence analyst based in Islamabad)


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