What the world and especially the US has to appreciate is that there is more at stake for Pakistan in the successful outcome of combating terrorism than for any other country. And the new democratic government is relatively better suited to prevent and counter terrorism
The importance of Pakistan for the US at this time can be gauged by the fact that it is constantly featured in the US media, albeit mostly for the wrong reasons. Various facets of relationship are frequently discussed in both houses of Congress and Pakistan keeps coming up as a leading foreign policy issue for the presidential candidates.
Moreover, top administration officials have made several visits to Pakistan to remain abreast of internal developments. From the US’ perspective, the centre of global Islamic radicalism has shifted to FATA, although many in Pakistan would disagree and consider it as a tactic to shift responsibility for their own failures.
There is also a prevailing perception that the US and NATO’s policy for this region is motivated by lucrative economic and strategic interests, apart from combating terrorism.
For Pakistan too, no country influences its internal dynamic more than the United States, especially now because of its close links directly through NATO in the “war on terror”.
And if we go back in history, one of the main reasons for Pakistan aligning so closely with the US was to countervail India. This largely still holds true, despite India’s growing proximity to Washington.
A classic example of this was illustrated immediately after 9/11 when Pakistan was confronted with the US president’s ultimatum to be enlisted in the war on terror as a key ally. President Musharraf showed undue haste in agreeing to the US demands on the plea that apart from other reasons if Islamabad had refused, India which had already conveyed its willingness would have acted as a conduit for logistic support.
The assumption is that Islamabad’s multiple links with the super power serve as a balancer. In addition to the security relationship, Islamabad is closely linked and dependent on the US for economic assistance, its social sector’s uplift and strategic gains.
On the other hand, there is a pervasive and strong anti-American sentiment in the public that places great strains on the bilateral relationship and makes the task of the government difficult. To many in this country the US is fighting an endless war and we are being forced into it, notwithstanding latest efforts of the government to correct this impression.
The belligerent unilateralism and discriminatory attitude of the Bush administration toward Muslim causes has also driven people toward taking an anti-US stance. Lack of shared values and misperceptions about the clash of civilisations has not been helpful in bringing the two countries closer. Bush administration’s support to Musharraf and their alleged interference in Pakistan’s domestic politics has also given rise to resentment among people.
The colonial legacy and the lack of legitimacy of the military rulers has made us a little too dependent on the US and we frequently look to Washington to solve even our domestic and external problems. This makes the task of getting people’s support to fight terrorism difficult.
The wide spread anti-American sentiment clearly restrains the freedom of the new government in developing a closer relationship with Washington and its greatest challenge would be to reconcile the security and economic demands with political compulsions.
Hopefully, as the United States and Pakistan deepen and broaden their cooperation and develop a multifaceted relationship in economic and social sectors the gap between the attitude of the people and the relationship of governments would close. The US being Pakistan’s largest trading partner opening of its markets will contribute toward placing our trade and commercial relations on a sound footing.
Whereas the US-Pak military relationship has always been close, there seem to be misgivings among intelligence and law enforcement agencies on issues related to the war on terror. The F-16 issue too is both substantive and symbolic and any delay in the implementation of its delivery is poorly perceived.
For smoother relationship all these anomalies have to be corrected. Washington cannot overlook the reality that Islamabad has extended unprecedented cooperation. The unfortunate part is that whereas US does praise Pakistan for its cooperation, it is also highly critical of Pakistan for being a major centre of Islamic radicalism.
Washington and the West conveniently forget that in many ways their past and present actions have contributed to the spread of militancy. This blame game and these pressure tactics only weaken the relationship and strengthen militants.
What the world and especially the US has to appreciate is that there is more at stake for Pakistan in the successful outcome of combating terrorism than for any other country. And the new democratic government is relatively better suited to prevent and counter terrorism and build a more balanced and comprehensive relationship.
Even in the best of times, the US-Pak relations have been beset with underlying tensions. But never before have the two governments confronted such conflicting pulls and pushes as are occurring today, which could truly tear apart their fragile alliance.
Regrettably, and as much ironically, the deep turbulence in their relationship comes at a time when both countries desperately need each other. There are multiple factors which are causing this rupture and it would require a deep understanding and most astute handling from both sides to restore the trust and confidence so necessary to give substance to the partnership.
Firstly, as has been wisely pointed out by Senator Biden, the US should follow Pakistan-oriented instead of Musharraf-centric policy. Supporting military rulers and simultaneously passing legislation that requires the US President to certify that Pakistan is making progress in its democratic evolution exemplifies Washington’s mixed and contradictory policies. Nonetheless, due to a Democrat dominated Congress and the likelihood of a Democratic President at the White House there will genuine support for democracy in Pakistan.
The latest US legislation which conditions its assistance upon progress on major issues truly defines its areas of interest. Pakistan’s relations with the US in the near future will hinge on progress made on them. It is important to analyse how we are likely to fare in these areas and what the major impediments will be.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general and can be contacted at email@example.com
Source: Daily Times, 1/5/2008