Bumpy road ahead for US-Pakistan relations

IN A rare display of defiance, Pakistan has rejected as “incomplete” at least 180 US government visa requests. In another development, US embassy in Islamabad complained that its diplomats are being harassed by Pakistani authorities. The complaint was made in reference to the security check on US diplomatic vehicles, introduced by Pakistani government last month.
Washington has threatened to cut annual Pakistani development assistance worth US$1.5 billion, in a tit- for-tat response. These developments are a clear manifestation of the fact that the ties between the two key allies in so-called “war against terror” are under immense strain. Even the Pentagon publicly acknowledged tensions on both sides earlier this month.
Although the two countries are close allies in the war against terror, there is a great amount of distrust between the two countries which is increasingly turning into hostility. This lack of trust is a hallmark of Pakistan-US relations since they established diplomatic ties in 1947.
When first Pakistani Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan visited the US in May 1950, Pakistan was non-aligned between the US-led Western Bloc and the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. Many in Pakistan still believe that Liaqat Ali Khan committed a great mistake by preferring an unreliable United States over the Soviet Union.
Events that unfolded later proved that Pakistan’s reliance on United States was indeed a mistake as it pushed the Soviet Union closer to India — the arch rival of Pakistan. While the Soviet Union proved to be a trustworthy partner of India, the same could not be said about the United States vis-a-vis Pakistan.
During the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, the United States opted to remain neutral. Despite the fact that Pakistan was member of US backed military treaties Cento (Central Treaty Organisation) and Seato (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation), Islamabad was left alone to deal with an enormous enemy. The then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan felt betrayed, as did many Pakistanis.
Similarly during the 1971 India-Pakistan war the supply line between East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan was cut by India. At that difficult time Pakistan counted on its key ally United States for help through sea but US 8th Fleet (the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise) never came to Pakistan’s rescue despite assurances by the US authorities. Recently de-classified documents suggest that US President Nixon had already made his mind to remain neutral in the Indo-Pakistan conflict. As a result Pakistan lost its eastern wing and Bangladesh was created.
Can the United States remain neutral if Israel comes under attack? Israel is also a US ally like Pakistan but the US treatment of Israel is totally different.This was the time when Pakistanis started to develop suspicions about US claims of friendship and partnership.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, United States got an opportunity to settle the score for its Vietnam War defeat. It needed Pakistan’s support to humiliate the Soviet Union and score a decisive victory in the Cold War. Once again Pakistan lent its full support. Not only did Pakistan host over three million Afghan refugees but also faced bomb blasts in many urban centres, reportedly sponsored by Soviet spy agency KGB in retaliation against Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.
But soon after achieving its goals in Afghanistan United States once again abandoned Pakistan and Afghanistan. Academy Ward Winning Director Mike Nichols’ movie “Charlie Wilson’s war” aptly describes that situation. When US abandoned Afghanistan, the country descended into chaos.
Desperate to see stability in its neighbourhood, Pakistan supported the Taliban when they emerged as a unifying force in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s friendly government in Kabul was in the best strategic interest of Islamabad, yet after 9/11, Pakistan abandoned the Taliban on the request of United States and became key ally in US-led war against Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Now after losing more than 2,000 soldiers and over 2,760 civilians in the war against terror since 2001, Pakistan is still not treated as a respectable partner. The conditional civilian assistance of US$7.5 billion which is being provided by Washington is touted as a great favour to Pakistan. This amount is too meagre to compensate the economic loss of over US$35 billion Pakistan has had to bear as result of its role in war on terror. Yet Washington is asking Pakistan to do more.
Keeping in view the history of US-Pakistan relations, the anti-US sentiments in Pakistan are not a surprising phenomenon. Pakistanis are wary of US intentions towards country’s nuclear programme. There are reports in Pakistani media that notorious US private security agency Blackwater is operating in Pakistan to gather information about Pakistan’s strategic assets. These reports prompted Pakistani officials to launch a crack-down against US diplomatic vehicles. The officials have also accused the Americans of using fake registration number plates on their vehicles. In some cases police said that the persons were armed and could not prove their identity.
The escalation of tension between Pakistan and United States at this crucial time is not a good omen for the war against terror. Especially when President Barack Obama announced his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of a new US strategy. Despite its key role in the war, Pakistan was not even consulted during formulation of this new strategy.
Washington is pressing Pakistan to expand its ongoing operation against Taliban in South Waziristan. Islamabad believes that US surge in Afghanistan will push Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters back into Pakistan, putting poorly-equipped Pakistan army under enormous pressure. Killing of civilians in US drone attacks inside Pakistani territory is another source of tension between the two countries. Each time civilians are killed sympathies for the Taliban grows in the region.
The friction between the two countries is likely to grow once the surge in US troops takes place in Afghanistan. This is not in the interest of Pakistan, United States and the rest of the world.
In order to eliminate anti-US sentiments in Pakistan, Washington has to take solid measures indicating that it wants a strong and sustainable partnership with Pakistan based on mutual respect and trust.
These measures could include halting drone attacks inside Pakistan, improving intelligence sharing with Pakistan regarding anti-al-Qaeda operations and chalking out a joint strategy for peace in Afghanistan. Without these measures, the tension between the two countries will further escalate, jeopardising their success in war against terror.

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