Like all dysfunctional relationships, the one between Pakistan and the US takes three steps back for every inch moved forward. In the last year, we have seen a progressive worsening of ties thanks to the Raymond Davis saga, the Osama bin Laden raid and finally, the killing of over two dozen Pakistani soldiers last November in a Nato strike. Now it’s time for a gradual rapprochement, as Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in London on the sidelines of a convention to discuss the situation in Somalia. Clinton’s statement that “Pakistan is too important an ally for the US to turn its back on” summed up the state of relations between the two countries: no matter how much the US wishes to distance itself from Pakistan for the latter’s perceived two-faced approach to terrorism, a complete break in relations would hurt the US far more than continued dealings with us.
Part of the problem is a certain measure of hypocrisy on the part of the US. Now that they are ready to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the US is willing to talk to segments of the Afghan-Taliban to save face. At the same time, they are not willing to afford the same luxury to Pakistan. A State Department spokesman said that only those Taliban groups which the US and Afghanistan governments had selected, could be part of the reconciliation process and that the Pakistani Taliban would not be included in that. The problem for Pakistan is that it will have to continue to tackle the Pakistani Taliban long after US troops have left and so it will want to reserve the right to begin negotiations with them.
What is heartening is that despite the numerous issues between the two countries, neither is willing to break-off relations altogether. This, too, is because of substantive reasons. Pakistan is too reliant on US aid to keep its economy afloat and so there is a limit on how much it can antagonise the US. For the Americans, even a slightly pliant Pakistan is preferable to one that has completely gone off the reservation. Like all alliances, this one too needs to be dictated by a touch of realism. Both countries need to acknowledge that their relationship is purely transactional and not based on mutual interests. Clinton and Khar went a long way towards precisely that honesty.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.
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