A relationship gone sour - Taj M Khattak - Thursday, April 14, 2011

In 1961, US vice president Lyndon B Johnson shook hands with camel-cart driver Bashir Ahmed during a state visit to Pakistan, patted his camel and said: “You come to Washington and see us sometime.”

Bashir’s subsequent twelve-day visit to the US shortly afterwards was a media blaze. On his part, in deference to his guest’s unease with silverware, LBJ even selected a menu where they could all eat with their hands. The high point came when Bashir was addressed as “Your Excellency” by former president Harry S Truman. That moment, Gary Powers’ U-2 take off from Badaber airbase near Peshawar the previous May and the spy plane’s shooting down over the Soviet Union, Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev’s threat to wipe Peshawar off the face of the earth and public anxiety over this crisis in Pakistan were all forgotten for a while.

Fast-forward to June 2008 and a bright Pakistani student, Samad Khurram, refuses an award from Ambassador Anne W Patterson in protest against US attacks on Mohmand Agency. But it was the thunderous applause for Khurram by the educated audience which accurately reflected the depth to which Pakistan-US relations had plummeted.

Gary Powers’ flight was a watershed event in many ways, but most significantly it defined a moment when, in spite of being sponsor and signatory to the Bandung Pact, which in essence required us not be drawn into the Cold War and respect other countries’ sovereignty, we allowed the use of our soil in a manner that could hardly amuse our neighbours, something which apparently did not stop even after Musharraf’s speech of January 2004.

We ignored a basic tenet, that the security of a state is enhanced more with friendly neighbours than overdependence on distant allies for whom Pakistan will always be a country too far. The result: fifty years down the road, we still need to revisit the fundamentals of Pakistan-US relations, a yearning to start a composite dialogue with India, relations with Afghanistan are unstable and with Iran we are barely managing.

It might have been a different scenario if we had not succumbed to the lure of US aid, largely military and to a negligible extent in the social sector. We have no one but ourselves to blame for these missteps as others will always pursue their own national agendas and interests. Reaching out to China and building an “all- weather” relationship was the only sensible foreign policy decision which has stood us in good stead and is an eyesore for the US and India.

The foundation of Pakistan as a client state of the US was laid when we mortgaged Badaber in the late 1950s. It also ushered in an era in which the US administration was more at ease with successive corrupt and inept military and civilian rulers who kowtowed to the US and its policies but showed no vision with regard to the long-term interests of Pakistan. Pakistan-US relations in the context of the Pakistani people therefore remained a total disconnect to be fully exploited by the religious right on such occasions as the Rushdie affair and the seizure of Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.

After the latest slump, the White House has issued a 38-page report to Congress which is an indictment on Pakistan but accepts virtually no responsibility on what increasingly looks like 3-D model of conflicting US policies and incoherence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Consider: if the CIA has ownership of drones and spies like Raymond Davis, the State Department pushes the nuclear deal with India but opposes the same deal with Pakistan and the Pentagon manages the United States’ Afghan policy in Kabul at the macro level, thus widening mistrust between Pakistan and the US, why then put the onus of the failures entirely on Pakistan?

The report ignores Pakistan’s national interests, or they are not given sufficient importance. If the US has clarity on achievable war objectives in Afghanistan, they may be known to a few in Washington and the information is not shared with Pakistan.

It is evident that through its heavy-handed policies, US is only interested in lowering militancy threat level on the Afghan side till its drawdown commences and least concerned with any proportionate decrease on this side of the border. Pakistan had been left holding the baby in the past and is unlikely to be fooled so easily this time around. The US makes much of the $8 billions aid and Coalition Support Fund but is insensitive to a nearly $80 billions hit to our economy.

In response to the White House report the Congress panel’s recommendations contained little that was new. It cited the usual differences between the US and Pakistan on their threat perceptions which are adversely affecting operations against extremists. It has also alleged that Pakistan’s military establishment has links with banned outfits.

India and Pakistan have fought three destructive wars and were on the verge of conflict on at least two other occasions. Any country which has dismembered another through use of force would be a threat by any definition of the word and India fits that bill. Neither the US nor India has any interest in a forward movement towards permanent peace in the region. If this is not a threat situation and the US sees it differently, then so be it.

What is one to make of the US withdrawal from four bases in Nuristan on the border with Pakistan which left the north-eastern province as a safe haven for the Taliban-led insurgency to orchestrate local battles? This had a direct negative impact on the Pakistani army’s operations as militants from Afghanistan infiltrated into Mohmand and Bajaur to help the Pakistani Taliban under siege.

Al-Jazeera’s footage of Taliban fighters brandishing US weapons has not been denied either. How is the US administration going to explain to the families of its perished soldiers that not only is the US involved in Afghanistan for all the wrong reasons but has also supplied insurgents with weapons to kill their sons and daughters serving in this godforsaken country? Is there any surprise, then, as to why its frustrated, i-pod equipped soldiers are killing innocent Afghan civilians at random as reported recently by the German magazine Der Spiegel?

The congressmen’s panel report has asked President Obama to abandon Pakistan and embrace India which, according to Congress, is emerging as the brightest light in South Asia. They have conveniently forgotten that the US has never really embraced anyone in the true sense of the word. It has only used countries along the way and then dumped them when they are no longer required. The Indians are too sharp not to understand this.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir would soon be on his way to patch up a floundering relationship. A relationship which is cosy today and in the doldrums tomorrow can hardly be helpful or strategic in nature. One hopes he can successfully plead Pakistan’s case for convergence and not divergence of long-term interests between the two countries.

If not, it might be appropriate to move away from this fractured “close” relationship to a normal one. The strategic relationship is a misnomer and cannot take us anywhere if we are looking in different directions. We need to focus our energies on improving relations with our neighbours in the region. To be sure, there will be economic difficulties in the beginning as we move away from the US orbit.

The Chinese didn’t give up opium in a single day. Our addiction to foreign aid too will take a while to go away. The Y junction on the road ahead and out of the US embrace may well be a blessing in disguise.

The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email: tajkhattak@ymail.com

Source : http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=41575&Cat=9

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