Why we need America - M Saeed Khalid - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=36351&Cat=9

Anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is once again on the rise. But the second or third generations of Pakistanis who chant slogans against America in the urban centres of Pakistan are not fully aware of the genesis of the country’s six-decade alliance with the United States. Nor do they seem to care that it was our leadership which first sought a close partnership with the world’s premier economic and military power. In an atmosphere charged with anti-America slogans, few would be interested to hear that the Pakistan-US alliance was a marriage based on reason rather than convenience.

The two sides stand to lose a great deal in case of a rupture. They believe that the partnership is mutually beneficial and, despite periods of tension, it should not be allowed to wither away. Pakistani-US relationship is based on sound fundamentals. The first of these is that from its birth Pakistan faced financial and territorial insecurity. It was natural for the Pakistani leaders, who perhaps considered themselves more as heirs to the Mogul rather than the British Empire, to turn to Washington for support in the post-World War II era.

The Americans did not seize the opportunity of mentoring the newborn Muslim country representing the world’s fifth-largest country in terms of population till they were confronted by the “red peril.” India’s reluctance to open its doors to western capitalism and its inclination to experiment with socialist methods internally and non-alignment internationally only helped the Americans to set aside their reservations and opt for friendship with Pakistan.

The relations hit road bumps because of America’s “do as I say” methods, Pakistan’s friendship with China, its use of American defence equipment against India, and other “issues,” the thorniest being America’s obsession against Pakistan’s nuclear project. This was to result in a first parting of ways during the Carter presidency. Carter will be remembered as the US president who merely flew over Pakistan to land in Tehran to raise a toast to the “oasis of peace” that Carter considered Iran under the Shah. In barely ten months, however, the US was bending over backwards to win over Pakistan to meet the challenge posed by Russian tanks rolling down Afghanistan in December 1979.

America’s disdain for Pakistan returned after the nuclear tests of 1998 and aggravated with Gen Musharraf’s coup in October 1999. By the second half of 2001, Pakistan was on the verge of default on its foreign debt repayments. After 9/11, America was once again compelled to seek Pakistan’s cooperation. There was one big difference though. The post 9/11 America was humbled but not sobered. It had turned aggressive and arrogant in its hour of grief. The mantra was no longer ‘we are in this together’. The sole superpower thundered ‘you are either with us or against us’. This time around, it was not one superpower enlisting support against its rival. America ran a uni-polar world and wanted revenge from the perpetrators of the 9/11 incident.

How Musharraf should have reacted to America’s demand is still debated. To some, he sold out cheaply, seizing the opportunity of legitimising his regime. But he was in no position to haggle. The reward for that cooperation came quickly as Pakistan’s economy was bailed out. Argentina, which faced a meltdown at the same time was asked to fend for itself and defaulted by December 2001. An Argentine analyst wrote at the time that geopolitics had dictated the US choice.

Today the US is upset that its “do more” exhortations regarding Afghanistan are not having the desired effect in Pakistan. A number of US moves have increased Pakistan’s exasperation. The relations have reached a crossroads where a parting of the ways seems probable. How else can one explain President Obama’s stand-alone visit to India, his criticism of Pakistan, an old ally, on Indian soil, and his excessive zeal for civil nuclear and other lucrative sales to India, while his envoys put the heat on Pakistan over the FMCT. The US idea of Pakistan decimating the Afghan Taliban to help America successfully complete its mission in Afghanistan is bereft of logic.

However, a major difficulty with the post-9/11 American doctrine is an excessive recourse to military means rather than statecraft or diplomacy. Today, military logic reigns supreme in the world’s great democracy. Drone attacks in our border areas and gun-toting US commandoes under diplomatic cover in our cities are the visible manifestations of this military logic. Consequently, the Americans prefer to deal with Pakistani commanders and sleuths rather than the country’s civilian leadership or bureaucracy.

The prevailing situation in Afghanistan and in our border areas does not vindicate America’s militarist approach. Gen Musharraf used to argue that terrorism could not be overcome by military means alone. According to him, the military could only succeed in creating a favourable environment but solutions would come through political means. Was it his reluctance to apply Pakistan’s full military might in defeating terrorism which encouraged the US to look for a more cooperative partner with democratic credentials? We may never know the whole truth, but American pressure for a liberal visa regime for their “diplomats” has resulted in tragic consequences. The Raymond Davis affair affected a floundering partnership.

A cooling-off period is needed to work through the imbroglio. In this period, the government could benefit from a brainstorming session attended by its defence experts, senior diplomats and financial managers for a policy planning review of Pakistan’s relations with the US, India and Afghanistan. No such consultation would be fruitful without eventually bringing the major political parties on board. This way, Pakistan would be able to speak with confidence.

President Zardari would be well advised to postpone his planned visit to the US until after an in-depth reappraisal of our partnership with the US. Washington too may be reassessing its ties with Pakistan. The short-term future of the Pakistan-US alliance may very well depend on how the two sides cope with the Raymond Davis affair.

But in the longer term, a close partnership with US should not be viewed or pursued in isolation. Sixty years ago, we reached out to the US not only for financial assistance but for strengthening our defence as well. India was at the root of our defence doctrine. But that can change with an improvement of Pakistan-India ties, with this country maintaining credible deterrence. It is not too late to look for solutions nearer home rather than across the oceans. The 21st century is destined to see a gradual decline of America’s global profile to the benefit of Asian powers. Let us adjust the pendulum in time.

The writer is a former ambassador and former head of the Americas/Europe Divisions in the ministry of foreign affairs. Email: saeed.saeedk@gmail.com

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