Downslide in US-Pakistan relations

By K.N. Pandita

US-Pakistan relations were neither realistic nor principled from the first day when Pakistan, under the military rule of General Musharraf, decided to be an ally of the US for latter’s war against terror. The reasons are not far to seek.

Ideologically Pakistan draws her strength from Islamic traditions and the Qura’n, hadith and Sunna. Contradiction is inherent in this and western civilization. Muslims all over the world, by and large, are not friendly towards the US.   

On political level, US as a staunch supporter of Israel, faces the ire of ordinary and devout Muslims. Even moderate intellectual class among the Muslims is unhappy over US’ outright support to Israel. They consider it driving a knife into the back of the Islamic world.

But notwithstanding that, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan collaborated vigorously with the US in ousting Soviet Union from Central Asia. This showed that ideologically Pakistan was unstable and almost bankrupt. It had a split personality.

Aligning with the US in war against terror was partly owing to fear and partly owing to past history. The fear was that Pakistan would have lost enormous financial support it received under various names from the US. The largest beneficiary of American financial assistance is the Army and its chapters like ISI. The past history reflected in the bonhomie of sorts between the Pakistani political heavyweights and the Generals, to whom the US is almost the second home.

For the US, most essential and over-arching factor for wooing Pakistan as an ally was latter’s entrenched hatred for the Soviet Union, the atheist state. Add to it geo-strategic importance of Pakistan in the Asian continent.

Furthermore, Pakistan enjoys close relationship with Saudi Arabia; so does the US for oil interests. Pakistan has based her Saudi closeness on Sunni-Wahhabi card, while Saudis consider Pakistan the strongest Muslim State outside Arab world. Iran, the only Shia state in the world, is pariah to her. Saudi has been a strong source for employment for a large Pakistani labour force, skilled as well as non-skilled. This enormous labour force brings home not only the petro dollar booty but also the conservative Wahhabi Islam to bread on Pakistani soil.

Hence we have the east-west triumvirate, Saudi-Pakistan-US, framing in tandem their regional as well as international strategies. An excellent example of the trio working in tandem is to be found in the supply of weapons from Israel to Iran via Pakistan during Iran-Iraq war.

The second most glaring example of their coordination is the hand-in-hand performance of three intelligence agencies, CIA, ISI and Al Akhbarat during the mujahedeen war against the Soviets. This has been graphically recorded by some of the retired CIA seniors.

The reason for rise of anti-American passion among Pakistani religious radical factions is the outright support of Washington to the military rulers of Pakistan spread over decades. The US considers Pakistani Army the safest constituency to protect her interests in that country.
Precisely this is also the case with anti-India sentiment among the Muslim separatists in the Indian part of Kashmir. At the root of Osma’s animus against the Americans lay the same reason. One can stretch the perception further and say that even this applies to Iran-US ongoing spat.

Anti-America sentiment found wide acceptance among the ordinary people in Pakistan in the aftermath of the liquidation of Osama bin Laden. He had come to be recognized as the icon and central force of Islamic uprising against the Americans.

After being forced into alliance with the Americans in fighting terrorism, Pakistan’s ruling establishment tried to adopt a resilient policy not essentially a double edged one. It demonstrated outright pro-Americanism wherever it found doing so was safe in the context of domestic scenario; it adopted neutral stance in policies of doubtful consequence and it was outright pro-fundamentalist when the tide threatened to sweep the government.

These were formal nuances of the elected government. But the military kept its agenda. Pakistan Army has tremendous capacity for absorption and flawless formulation of diplomatic and strategic decisions. It convinced Americans that it would and could fight fundamentalist terror. It could also convince them that its policy in Kashmir was not to be bracketed with action required to fight terrorism elsewhere. Up to reasonable extent Pakistan convinced Washington that Kashmir was linked to the ideology of jihad for the Muslims.

However, a change in Islamabad’s war on terror strategy came under close scrutiny of the Americans when the heat of Afghan war began reaching ordinary households in the United Sates. In the US Congress, and Senate, the representatives raised questions about double standards of Pakistan. Secretary of State made no bones about doubts and allegations. Even Pentagon where Pakistan Army has made deep and successful dent could not hold back its reservations about Pakistani Army playing the expected role in Afghan war.

Atmosphere of mutual doubts and suspicions between the CIA and ISI deepened in direct contrast to their close camaraderie during war against Soviet Union. The Davis incident portended deep rupture because according to grapevine, he had become privy to the whereabouts of Osama. With his return to the US after paying hefty blood money, ISI was left with no doubts that the Americans knew Osama’s whereabouts though they had not the inkling about the impending SEAL blitzkrieg.

Now it is a hidden war between the hidden organizations, each essaying to outplay the other. Americans did not relent in drone attacks and in demanding that Pakistan do more to suppress terror.

Taliban attack on American embassy in Kabul in August last catalyzed quick downslide in US-Pak relationship. Secretary of State did not mince words and American commanders publicly accused ISI of colluding with Haqqani group in latter’s 20-hour long attack on American embassy. Obama demanded dismantling of terrorist structure on Pakistani soil.

American-NATO attack on Pakistan’s twin military post in Salal in Mohmand area just a mile and half away from Afghan border on the night of 25-26 November, was in response to the firing of Pakistani troops on a combined Afghan-American/NATO contingent in Kunar district contiguous to Pakistan territory.

Political observers believe that the US wanted to send a message to Pakistan that she would not tolerate Pakistan making such concessions to China as would put American strategic interests in jeopardy in Af-Pak region. It will be recalled that after giving the PLA a foothold in Gilgit-Baltistan region, Pakistan is under pressure from China for giving her military base in North Waziristan. Furthermore, China’s activities in Gawadar sea port on Makran coast are considered a provocative irritant to the US fleet in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, particularly in view of growing hostility of Iran to the US presence in the area.

In retaliation to the US attacks on Pakistani Mohmand military posts on the night of 25-26 November, Islamabad ordered closure of Karachi-Peshawar transit road for shipment of war supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. She also decided to boycott the Bonn meeting on Afghanistan. Pakistani cable owners declared not to relay BBC broadcasts/telecasts in Pakistan.

Pakistani Cabinet Committee resolved to make re-appraisal of Pakistan’s diplomatic, political, military and strategic relationship with the US. It avoided including financial and economic areas in the review category. Pakistanis know that, and her military knows better that its very survival depends on cash doles from the US.

The US already has alternate road connectivity with Afghanistan via Central Asia on its blue print. Moreover, in second thought, Pakistan will realize the loss of enormous monies she earns through toll tax on trucks transshipping materials to Afghan front. Already thousands of Pakistan trucks have got stranded on the roadside because they are not allowed to carry material to Afghanistan.

The US can strike back but will not. That is poor statesmanship. It is barely two days that Islamabad has come out with its stern warning of retaliatory steps. But interestingly, her High Commissioner in London has made a fervent appeal to London to intervene in the dispute between Pakistan and the US. “You know us better and you can persuade the US not to treat us that bad,” said Pakistani High Commissioner in London to Alistair Burt, the British deputy foreign minister in charge of South Asian Affairs.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar).

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