Need to Re-Align Pakistan-America Relations


by Asif Haroon Raja


Pakistan and USA are old allies but their relations have never remained steady and lasting. Their relations were at its best in the 1950s during Eisenhower era when Pakistan became part of the defensive arc against communist expansionism. Relations began to wane in the wake of 1962 Sino-Indo border clash after the US unjustifiably tilted towards India which was closely aligned with the then Soviet Union and disturbed the regional balance of power. President Kennedy pressed Ayub Khan not to exploit India’s highly vulnerable position by starting a war in occupied Kashmir as had been suggested by China, and assured him that the US would play its role in settling the dispute. Misled by the false promise, Pakistan lost a golden opportunity.

Pakistan got another shock when Washington being an ally of Pakistan unfairly disrupted military and economic aid during 1965 Indo-Pak war. Moscow on the other hand continued to supply war needs to its ally India. Had Pakistan not been denied critical spare parts and ammunition, it could have placed India in a tight corner and held negotiations at Tashkent from a position of strength. Stoppage of US assistance program had a debilitating impact on Pakistan’s third 5-year development plan which had all the potential to make Pakistan a strong economic power.

The US again played a biased role in 1971 when it stopped its military assistance to Pakistan and not only blocked military supplies but also directed Muslim countries friendly to Pakistan not to supply any arms. India on the other hand kept receiving military supplies from USSR, Israel and other countries. The US provided economic aid to India and arms to Mukti Bahini under the cover of refugee aid. When Pakistan desperately tried for a ceasefire in East Pakistan, the US didn’t use its clout to get any UN resolution passed. The USSR on the other hand which had stood behind India vetoed each and every resolution favoring Pakistan. The story of arrival of American troops and that of 7th Fleet proved illusive. The US played a role in dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 despite the fact that Pakistan was instrumental in creating a détente in Sino-US relations.

While the US ignored India’s overt nuclear program which got commissioned in 1974 in spite of the fact that India was a camp follower of USSR, the US took a highly belligerent stance when it learnt that Pakistan was also pursuing a nuclear program secretly. Jimmy Carter in a huff imposed tough sanctions on Pakistan in 1979 but Reagan had to grudgingly remove them in mid 1981 after the US needed Pakistan to serve its global ambitions. Pakistan was lured to do its bidding by offering $3.5 billion economic and military assistance in return for Pakistan agreeing to fight a proxy war in Afghanistan against Soviet troops.

Promotion of Jihadi culture at the behest of USA in 1980s proved too costly for Pakistan since it is suffering from its after affects to this date. Radicalization of the society, Kalashnikov and drug cultures and sectarian war in the 1990s was a result of Afghan Jihad. After suffering so much in fighting the US dictated proxy war, Pakistan was penalized by USA by imposing draconian Pressler Amendment. Stoppage of economic assistance led to accumulation of foreign debt to $38 billion and became one of the causes of democratic era failing to deliver.

Pakistan was further penalized after it carried out nuclear tests in retaliation to Indian tests in May 1998 by imposing additional sanctions. These sanctions remained operative till as late as September 2001 and got removed only when Gen Musharraf agreed to all the seven demands of USA. From that time onwards, Pakistan has gone through the most traumatic period of its history since it is neither treated as an ally nor an enemy but is viewed by Washington with distrust. There have been ups and downs in Pak-US relations mainly because of discriminatory attitude of Washington. After a decade of so-called friendship, the relations have become highly tenuous and reached a breaking point.

Strains had started to appear in early 2010 over the issue of North Waziristan (NW) operation. Obama’s Administration didn’t like Pakistan resisting US demand which was considered necessary to control growing insurgency in Afghanistan. Much hyped Kandahar operation was delayed several times on account of this excuse. Pakistan couldn’t afford to launch another major military operation in NW soon after Swat and South Waziristan (SW) operations due to multiple compulsions.

Alleged presence of top leadership of Al-Qaeda and Haqqani group in NW and Afghan Shura in Quetta region discomfited USA. Hafiz Gul Bahadur led Uthmanzi Wazir tribe in NW and Maulvi Nazir led Ahmadzai Wazir tribe in SW together with Haqqani network seen as friendly to Pakistan and involved in supporting Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan added to mounting strains. Restrictions imposed on American citizens visiting Pakistan in various capacities by Pakistan on the advice of ISI angered Washington and it threatened Islamabad that unless visa policy was relaxed, Kerry Lugar Bill (KLB) aid will be disrupted.

Pakistan at the receiving end had its own list of grievances. These included RAW-RAAM conducted covert war from Afghan soil under the nose of US military-NATO-CIA; lack of counter terror equipment and close support fund; negative propaganda by US media and think tanks to undermine its premier institutions; America’s visible tilt towards India; growing presence of India in Afghanistan under the patronage of Washington; KLB attached with stringent conditions detrimental to Pakistan’s security interests; secret entry of Blackwater elements and CIA operatives into Pakistan under guise of security contractors and businessmen. Intensification of drone strikes by CIA in Waziristan became another contentious issue.

Pakistan also had serious reservations over American contention that local militants and not India were the existential threat to integrity of Pakistan; and over liberal up gradation of Indian military and nuclear capabilities harmful to Pakistan’s national security. Pakistan rightly grudged that instead of compensating it for rendering so much of sacrifices in war on terror, the US subjected it to unjustified pressures and slander and at the same time lavishly rewarded its arch rival India which has no role in war on terror except for covert war to fuel terrorism and destabilize Pakistan.

Stark difference in attitudes of US officials visiting Islamabad and Delhi also highlighted America’s bias. They sympathetically listen to India’s preposterous claim that she is the biggest victim of terrorism and that Lashkar-e-Taiba associated with ISI was principally responsible for most terror attacks in India, but paid no attention to Pakistan’s security concerns. Pakistan genuinely complained as to why the US out rightly supported Indian version that non-state actors of Pakistan duly backed by ISI were involved in Mumbai attacks.

It was under such simmering tensions that Raymond Davis incident occurred in January 2011 which led to a clash between ISI and CIA and in turn made Pak-US relations rocky. Davis was released without interrogation, but Pakistan was not forgiven for committing an unpardonable offence. Leon Panetta felt insulted and humiliated and came out with ‘Get Geronimo’ plan to teach Pakistan a hard lesson. The two lethal stabs delivered on 5/2 and on 22/2 have devastated Pakistan. Notwithstanding cosmetic damage control efforts made by John Kerry, Mullen and Clinton, the injury and trauma caused is too deep-rooted and time alone together with some pro-active honest acts by Washington might heal the wounds.

The US wants Pakistan to take firm action against the support group which secretly accommodated OBL in Abbottabad. It suspects elements within Army and ISI helped OBL to remain hidden for over five years in a military garrison next door to PMA Kakul. At the same time, the US doesn’t want the local support group to be touched, which guided CIA to OBL’s compound and assisted US SEALs to carryout helicopter assault on 02 May and kept Pakistani authorities in dark. American officials are highly miffed over reported arrest of few individuals whom they term as US strategic assets and want them released. The US also desire that Pakistan’s agencies shouldn’t spy over espionage activities of under cover operatives of CIA and place restrictions. It wants the ISI to overlook CIA’s secret contacts with militant groups, or shady activities of Blackwater. Drastic cut in number of US trainers – mostly CIA agents, stoppage of supplies to US soldiers and Blackwater elements operating drones from Shamsi airbase and re-imposition of restrictions on visas have not been well received in Washington.

Now that the Army and ISI have started to show mirror to Pentagon and CIA, in which dirty work of CIA to destabilize Pakistan can clearly be seen, instead of feeling sheepish, the US officials have become more arrogant and are trying to hold Pakistan guilty. Although Pak-US relations are at a breaking point, but it seems the US has no intention to repair the relations since it thinks it has finally succeeded in nailing Pakistan and will now be able to bend it. This is evident from continuance of drone war, media war, ‘do-more mantra’ and threatening tone. There is no let-up in Pakistan bashing by US media and our media. Army and ISI are being viciously targeted to undermine their credibility. Appointment of hawkish Panetta as Secretary Defence and Gen Petraeus as Director CIA will not auger well for Pakistan.

Despite being the oldest ally of USA, Pakistan is the most sanctioned country and has been repeatedly betrayed by USA. Pakistan has gained very little and lost substantially in its alignment with untrustworthy USA. Other than the beneficiaries of USA and pro-American liberals, great majority in Pakistan including armed forces desire re-alignment of Pak-US relations. Before the US ditches Pakistan at a wrong time, it is time for us to re-set our compass bearing and throw away the crutches provided by the US and stand on our own feet.

About the writer: Brig Asif Haroon is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email: [email protected]

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