Assessing US-Pak ties


Five minutes into a discussion on Pakistan-US and one gets locked into a binary: it’s either about how we can and must do without the US, or oh, we just can’t. As is the case with all either-or propositions, this too is simplistic and wrong.

National strategies are not a function of reducing one’s options to either-or. They demand the exact opposite: a state must increase its options. Smaller and middle-sized states, more than the behemoths, require nimble footwork. The medieval question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin might be a dismissal of angelology, but in modern statecraft the question of whether a state like Pakistan, located as it is, has the ability to dance on the head of a pin assumes a practical and crucial significance.

With Pakistan-US relations hitting a rough patch again, we have analysts talking about other options like China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etcetera. The argument goes thus: the US is a declining power anyway and Pakistan needs to cut itself loose from Washington and integrate itself with the emerging poles.

There are three broad problems with this argument. First, the US, for all its troubles, and there are many, will remain the foremost power in the near future. Second, there is no reason for Pakistan to treat its relations with other countries as necessarily, almost automatically, in opposition to its ties with the US. In fact, it must have sound relations with all the important states in the region and beyond in addition to its relations with the US. Third, with the exception of Iran, there is no other country in the region and beyond that wants to cut itself loose from the US anytime soon, and this includes China. Russia, despite a long list of irritants between Washington and Moscow, also does not want a cut-off.

There is a fourth problem too, if we are placing the argument in an understanding of the emerging poles of power. One such pole is India, and some projections say it is set to be the fourth largest economy after the US, China and the EU. I have not come across anyone stressing the importance of reassessing relations with India, either in terms of facing the challenge or turning it into an opportunity.

But let me return to US-Pakistan relations now that we have seen another round of talks between US envoy Mark Grossman and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

What we see today is owed partly to our remarkable inability to properly negotiate the terms of engagement, and partly to the US narrative that Washington has done so much for Pakistan and yet Pakistanis remain anti-American. This was bound to happen since both sides, officially, were dressing a largely, if not entirely, transactional relationship in the robes of strategic partnership.

This is not to say that the US was, or is, not interested in a long-term relationship with Pakistan. It is. But that interest has been marred by two factors: the military-operational requirements in the region – the immediate, as I call it – were likely to trump the long-term partnership; and Washington’s responses were contingent on its own interests, not Pakistan’s.

The inability to find a balance between the short- and the long-term on the one hand as also the failure to empathise with each other’s interests and find a minimum common agenda in this region sums up the story of the last ten years.

Take an example. The Americans, as also the rest of the world and the we-just-can’t-do-without-America crowd in Pakistan, constantly talk about USD20 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001. This is bunkum but no one really cares about checking the veracity of this narrative.

It can be challenged on three counts, at least. (For a previous assessment, see Ejaz Haider, “Review terms of deal with US”; The Friday Times; Feb 20-26, 2009; Vol. XXI, No. 1) It is statistically wrong; it only focuses on what has come to Pakistan and ignores the direct and presumptive losses to Pakistan’s economy because of this conflict; it puts no price tag on such intangibles as the loss of nearly 40,000 civilians and soldiers in the conflict and the social stress it has placed on Pakistan.

One can add many other factors. But there has been no real attempt by Islamabad to debunk this US-inspired international narrative. What is interesting is that the breakdown of what Pakistan has got in multiple categories is all listed in Congressional Research Service documents. The bulk of what has come to Pakistan has been under CSF (Coalition Support Funds). This is money spent by Pakistan and reimbursed, and the latest CRS estimate puts it at USD8.881 bn. This is followed by USD2.455 bn in FMF (Foreign Military Financing) and USD1.9 bn in PCF/PCCF (Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund from the Pentagon/Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Funds from the State Department).

On the non-military side, the biggest head is USD5.705 bn in ESF (Economic Support Funds). There are other smaller heads on both the military and non-military sides (FC training/International Military and Education Training/Development Assistance etc).

If we take out the reimbursements, we are left with some USD12 bn spread over a decade. And if we take out all the military “assistance”, we are left with USD7.472 bn in economic-related assistance over that period. The money under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, which promised USD1.5 bn annually from 2009, is almost non-existent. According to one estimate, only USD200 million has been disbursed under that Act, and another puts it at USD600 million, a large part of which was in flood relief grants last year.

Without prejudice to US intentions, one has to ask three questions.

One, is this money (USD7.5 bn in economic assistance) enough to compensate Pakistan for the chaos it has seen in the last decade?

Two, what would be the case assuming Pakistan had negotiated it differently and instead of this “assistance”, merely focused on reimbursements for its military actions in support of the US and fees (forget duties and tariffs) for the use of its supply lines and airbases in Balochistan?

Three, did the US government give Pakistan its taxpayers money to enjoy a free lunch?

I cannot work out how much that would have got Pakistan, that being the job of those closer to the action, but going by the very interesting case of Kyrgyzstan, among others, and how Bishkek negotiated for the use of Manas airport between 2002 and 2009, it is safe to assume that we would be spared the current narrative of US largesse and got more money than what we seem to be stuck with now.

The effort then should be, moving ahead, to redefine not just the terms of engagement but also renegotiate, keeping in mind the realities of the relationship and its near- and long-term requirements. The current trajectory of this relationship is unsustainable and both sides feel they have been short-changed by the other. But precisely because it is important for both sides to remain engaged, as Secretary Clinton also noted in her recent interview to Reuters, its terms should be defined in hardnosed prose, not romantic poetry.

In which case, among other things, how about we first establish proper protocols on who can meet whom? I am afraid that would have put Ambassador Grossman with the foreign secretary rather than the foreign minister.

The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.


  1. today usa need pakistan because of their many intrests like Afganistan near central Asia which are full of lng gas,,uranium,to control russia,china and iran and middle east for his buisness,now alqaida has no power,taliban also weak now usa want india support to control this region,today usa and europe econimicaly weak so they want control this region they want weak pakistan as they want arabworld weak because of their intrests so pakistanis,muslim world know all these and seeing infront of them how usa europe forces killing innocent muslims in iraq,in pelestine,in libiya,in sudanand african muslimcountries,in afganistan,in pakistan so pakistani and most muslim world hate usa and europe and could not faith ever and now usa very weak so this allince cannt go long term this is near to end because pakistan suffering badly because of usa.

  2. Correction: Special Representative Grossman will have to liaise with Additional Secretary for Americas, MoFA. Secretary Clinton will liaise with the Foreign Minister or Foreign Secretary in case the principal is not present. Currently, Special Representative Grossman meets directly with our Head of State and Head of Government, as does Secretary Clinton.

  3. Ejaz:

    Why there is so much mistrust on Pakistan all around the world? Why Pakistan is an increasing liability to everyone (including China)? How did Bangladesh's economy went in an opposite trajectory from Pakistan's in the last 30 years? (if you know what I mean). How is that small a country living its huge security threat from all three sides and still dares to raise border disputes? How did Sri Lanka manage it''s ethnic conflict without being intervened?

    The answer probably is that the brass-heads don't get to direct the priorities in those countries. Ayub thought he smarted a deal on SEATO and CENTO. He got it for Pakistan! Zia thought he smarted a deal over Afghanistan. Reagan gave him one which he drank with a cocktail of radical islam. Saudis added wahabi spice in it. Then Musharraf smarted a 9/11 deal and he tried his smart abra-kadabra on it.
    So abra-kadabra is what Pakistan got. That abra-kadabra is carried on by current Kayani-Pasha leadership of Pakistan. And there are a large number of enlisted strategic thinkers-cum-editorial-promoters of that in Pakistan. The and/or mosaic becomes a self-serving design.

    So abra-kadabra is what Pakistan gets for now. Feel accomplished and happy. God Bless…

  4. Haider, I do not believe you regarding the matters I do not understand. It is because I found you deceiving your readers regarding the matters I do understand.

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