A partnership under stress - M Saeed Khalid - Friday, April 15, 2011

The United States of America, the world’s sole superpower, has assumed the role of a locomotive with the other countries either attached to the engine or left in the yard. After the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, Pakistan agreed to become a wagon of the American train and benefited from the traction provided by the locomotive. The relationship between the two countries, although it is inherently unequal, surmounted the obstacles and hurdles in its way.

But America ultimately succeeded in achieving its objective of placing a much larger number of CIA operatives in Pakistan and raising the frequency of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. As a result, Pakistan-US relations now have to endure an unusually bumpy ride. America’s intrusive methods in dealing with the militancy led to the Pakistani army, and especially the ISI, feeling cornered on their home turf.

The Americans are frustrated over what they consider a less than enthusiastic attitude of our army. They want it to adopt a still more vigorous approach towards the indigenous Taliban. This aggravated further the resentment caused by Washington’s public exhortations to Pakistan for it to “do more,” although its army already finds itself overstretched in its struggle to curb extremist elements involved in an armed jihad against “the infidels” and those who support them.

On the other hand, Pakistan has its own concerns regarding the United States’ designs in the region. Foremost among these is the worry that America’s staying power in Afghanistan is limited while the Taliban can live with the hope of fighting another day. And when that day comes, with America’s power already waning, the plausible permutations of forces within Afghanistan do not give reasons for hope as far as Pakistan’s strategic interests are concerned. And yet Washington’s tilt towards India in pursuance of America’s vital security and economic interests grows unabated. These two factors are sufficient to understand Islamabad’s skepticism about the United States’ commitment to Pakistan beyond Afghanistan.

The United States is keen to forge a strong civil nuclear partnership with India. At the same time, it appears to be trying to undermine the supply of Chinese nuclear power plants to Pakistan and obstruct the development of a gas supply link with Iran. These are policies which have greatly damaged America’s standing in Pakistan. The proverbial last straw was the decision of President Barack Obama to exclude Pakistan from his trip to this region and then criticising Pakistan during his visit to India last year.

Given this background, it was something of an exaggeration for Ambassador Cameron Munter to claim during his talk at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad on Monday that Pakistan-US relations were strong. He also said that, despite the problems these relations encounter, he was optimistic about their future. Disagreeing with those in America who belittle Washington’s relationship with Islamabad, Munter described both India and Pakistan as America’s friends, and concluded by emphasising that both relationships were important to the US. Another interesting remark Munter made was that the US wanted Pakistan and India to become strong friends and Washington was persistently making efforts for the realisation of that goal.

Munter countered the suggestion by one participant that Pakistan-US relations had landed in the intensive-care unit. This was in line with his opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of the Pakistani media. Answering a question about the media, Munter said that he was impressed by the vigour of Pakistan’s media. However, he said that sometimes the press here follows “fashion” rather than presenting ideas.

The media can reflect on Munter’s remarks in their own time. But there is no doubt about the growing trend of Pakistani media highlighting the decline in this country’s relations with the United States. In doing so, the media overlooks the positive elements. Munter’s claim that the Fulbright programme for Pakistan was on way to becoming the largest in the world has not produced any headlines. It is left to the readers to think about the many facets of Pakistan-US cooperation which are not newsworthy but may be producing deeply beneficial effects for the country.

The murder of two Pakistanis by Raymond Davis in Lahore and the CIA’s deadly drone attack in North Waziristan after his release last month marked the low points of Pakistan-US relations this year. Another attack following the visit of ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha to Washington threatens to undermine the efforts to repair the damage. Regional security considerations are paramount in Pakistan-US partnership and military cooperation tends to dominate the agenda. It is for the civilian government to highlight the fact that US assistance and diplomatic support to Pakistan in economic, social and cultural fields is as important as the security dimension of the Pakistan-US partnership.

The writer is a former head of the Americas Division in the ministry of foreign affairs

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=41698&Cat=9

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