Pakistan-US relations – Interests before emotions


The US Vice President Mr Bidens recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan has intensified the debate about the nature and durability of relations between the two countries. In a PTV program on 14th January 2011, the anchor repeatedly asked the participants if the US would prove to be reliable partner in the future or would once again abandon Pakistan, what its real intentions in befriending Pakistan are etc.

The most interesting issue raised by a statement of the foreign office spokesman related to the old question of the Great Game. The daily Dawn of 14th January gave it top heading. In my view, the Dawn journalist was right on the target. But I would go a bit further, and describe the analogy of the Great Game as reflecting our own ambitions in Afghanistan rather than the fear of a threat to Pakistans security, which, in the case of imperial UK, had driven it to try to conquer Afghanistan to protect its Indian colony from the ingress of Tsarist Russia through Afghanistan.

It is unfortunate and even harmful to our own national interests that our foreign policy should be so India centric. If we continue to be so scared of India, even as a nuclear power, then like a coward we will die a hundred deaths every day and this insecurity will lead us to horrendous mistake of an internal melt down, in which case India will not have to even lift a finger to destroy us. While there is no doubt that the US has let us down a number of times in the past, it was our immaturity to have placed so much trust in the US. Bilateral relations between two countries are seldom based entirely on altruistic motives and are permanent only until the commonality of interests between them lasts.

Global powers like the USA have global interests which change and force them to modify their policies to protect their global interests. It was our mistake that we believed that our loyalty to the US would be reciprocated. At this point, I would like to express my apprehension that our all weather relationship with China will undergo a deep transformation as China becomes a full global power. However, we too have always acted primarily in our own interests rather than that of the US in spite of being its treaty partner. For instance, we began to develop relations with China in the early 60s although at that time the US was very anti-China and was preventing its entry into the UN Security Council. Again, in spite of the US opposition to our nuclear program, we went ahead, became a full nuclear power and tested it in May 1998.

Nevertheless, a general perception prevails among a majority of Pakistanis that we are no more than a lackey of the US. That impression is clearly wrong. It does not mean that we never accept the US pressure but only when it suits our economic, political and security interests. It is, therefore, natural that we should act as a friendly nation rather than as a hostile one. On the hand, the Al-Qaeda, the TTP and all such organisations, in Pakistan or Afghanistan, have no sympathy for Pakistan, or capacity to help it economically, financial or militarily. They will not even fight on our side in case of a war between us and India. They have only one agenda, revival of Islamic world power at any cost. If it leads to bankruptcy or disintegration of Pakistan, so be it.

On the other hand, I do believe that the US would like to destroy our nuclear capability, but not because we are followers of Islam which they hate. The US has been Pakistans ally for several decades before it became a nuclear power and will remain so as long as our geo-strategic location remains unchanged. But as one cannot clap with one hand, their can be no one sided relationship. All relations are based on mutual interest and trust. Therefore, if we believe that the US will not expect anything in return from us for billions of dollars of economic and military aid, we will be mistaken.

Therefore, we must decide (a) whether the US can give us more help or (b) the Al-Qaeda, TTP and other extremist organisations, who are instrumental in hundreds of suicide bombings, deaths of thousands Pakistanis of all ages and genders and severe damage to its economy. The answer is not difficult to find. As to whether the US will or will not betray us again, will depend on the situation of the time. But let us be in no doubt that that unless we begin to govern ourselves better, we would be living the fear of Allama Iqbals nightmare.

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The write is a former Ambassador of Pakistan.