US-Pakistan relations: can a lobbyist help?

Published: July 25, 2016
SHARES
Email
The writer, a former ambassador, teaches at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University, USA

The writer, a former ambassador, teaches at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University, USA

Recent reports that Pakistan was searching for a lobbyist in Washington show how little the Pakistani establishment understands the complexities of US-Pakistan relations or US foreign policy, especially its complicated policymaking process and the political context in which it operates. Ironically, Washington’s own understanding of the relationship is no better. While Pakistan may think of hiring a lobbyist when things go wrong, Washington’s favourite solution is sanctions. And this is what a recent Congressional hearing entitled, “Pakistan: Friend or foe?” has called for. The underlying sentiment on both sides is the same: each feels its policies have nothing to do with the problematic relationship and that it has done no wrong.

There are some fundamental issues involved here at the heart of which is how the interests of each are being impacted by the policies of the other. And that is not something a lobbyist can fix. The fact is some Pakistani and American interests may be shared or common but others are on the opposing sides. Not only that, even on shared interests their perceptions and sometimes policies are different. Over time the two sides have tried to reconcile these irreconcilables. They did not succeed but did not let the negatives overwhelm the relationship. This was relatively easy to do during the Cold War. The White House ran the 1980s Afghan war and Pakistan was run by the military. The US found it easy to deal with a client state run by a compliant regime presiding over a pliant population. When the job was done, Washington walked away and slapped sanctions, only to return when Pakistan was needed, behaving as if nothing had happened in the time between. What a way to create a trusted relationship! And in time Pakistan learnt to pay back in the same coin.

But times have changed. And not just because of 9/11. The world began changing long before. The end of the Cold War, globalisation, the information revolution, media and internet explosion and a wave of democracy were changing the attitudes of populations of America’s erstwhile dependent allies where political consciousness was rising as was nationalism. The international and domestic orders were coming under challenge from liberal and illiberal forces alike. US foreign policy and relations with Washington were being questioned.

And America itself has been changing. Incited by 24/7 cable TV, social media, radio talk shows, advocacy groups, think tanks and special interests, public opinion has become partisan and hyperactive. And in a polarised political environment this means the politics of issues has become more important than policy. America’s post-9/11 wars have caused consequences for itself and others in a world that has become competitive, complex and unpredictable, if not dangerous; and above all, difficult to relate to. American leadership, like in other advanced democracies, has been finding it hard to explain and get domestic consensus over critical issues and make good policies, especially as there are multiple stakeholders, competing priorities and conflicting voices.

But that is not the only thing that has changed as far as impact on Pakistan is concerned. South Asia has changed and so has the way world powers relate to it. A resurgent China and a rising India now present strategic challenges and economic opportunities as never before. The region also presents some serious threats. The relationship with Pakistan is important to America’s security and strategic interests and for the strategic stability of South Asia, but the problem is Pakistan is bristling with issues of high public concern that are a grist to the media mill and thus consequential for the world of politics, making it hard for Washington to have a good policy towards Pakistan.

In Pakistan, it is hard to imagine the long-term damage done in the US to its trustworthiness by the AQ Khan affair and Osama bin Laden’s stay in Pakistan for nearly a decade, and to its reliability as an ally by the bitterness felt by the US military over the undermining of the Afghanistan war by Taliban sanctuaries. Washington not only has an unfinished war in Afghanistan but also an extraordinary new relationship with India. And Pakistan’s policies are seen as negatively impacting American interests there. Pakistan’s image and its policies thus affect both US politics and foreign policy interests and excite Congress and the media, and energise the whole spectrum of the American system where Indians now have a visible presence or influence. All this is contributing to the difficult relationship.

America is insensitive to Pakistan’s legitimate strategic interests and to the enormity of challenges to its internal security which, Washington feels, Pakistan has brought upon itself by living dangerously, and that it should change its policies not just for America but for its own sake. But Pakistan blames it all on the spillover of a troubled Afghanistan war. It plays the victim card, but how can you claim to be a victim of forces you have not disowned? Last but not least, Washington thinks if it gives money it can ask Pakistan to do things even against the country’s own interests. It demands unconditional compliance and promises conditional support. But Pakistan thinks it has given more than it has got. Both are wrong but neither will change.

So when American people ask, and legitimately from their standpoint, “Is Pakistan really a friend?”, can a lobbyist give a better answer than Pakistani leaders, or diplomatic officials? Lobbyists don’t bake the cake. They only put an icing on it. And in the case of US and Pakistan, they both want to have their cake and eat it as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2016.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (25)

  • imran ali
    Jul 25, 2016 - 11:55PM

    very well written..Recommend

  • Rahul
    Jul 26, 2016 - 12:07AM

    Pakistan is its own worst enemy, no amount of lobbying can change that.Recommend

  • Ajeet
    Jul 26, 2016 - 2:13AM

    All the reason for kashmiris to know that Pakistan supporting them will allow Indian government to use whatever tactics it wants and still have public support. Recommend

  • J.Niaz
    Jul 26, 2016 - 2:57AM

    Very well written analysis.Recommend

  • Observer
    Jul 26, 2016 - 3:37AM

    Quote “Pakistan blames it all on the spillover of a troubled Afghanistan war. It plays the victim card, but how can you claim to be a victim of forces you have not disowned?” unquote.

    says it all
    Recommend

  • Prakash
    Jul 26, 2016 - 4:56AM

    Pakistan has got everything wrong-no amount of lobbying can help improve its image.Recommend

  • wb
    Jul 26, 2016 - 6:02AM

    Look Mister, what even a college boy/girl in India understands, even the so called “strategic analysts”, “military analysts”, “political analysts”, “think tanks”, “politicians” of Pakistan do not understand.

    Pakistanis are the only ones (maybe apart from North Korea) who take actions that go against the common sense all the time. Even other Muslims act as per common sense some of the times.Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 6:50AM

    May be difficult to answer “Is Pakistan really a friend?”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    But the answer to whether Pakistan is really a foe is resoundingly clear!Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 6:54AM

    The POTUS has termed Pakistan a ” dangerously dysfunctional ‘ state.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    what can a lobbyist add or subtract?Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 6:56AM

    US-Pakistan relations: can a lobbyist help?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Try a FM before that !Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 7:04AM

    Compliment the Editor……..
    +++++++++++++++++
    In Pakistan, it is hard to imagine the long-term damage done in the US to its trustworthiness by the AQ Khan affair and Osama bin Laden’s stay in Pakistan for nearly a decade, and to its reliability as an ally by the bitterness felt by the US military over the undermining of the Afghanistan war by Taliban sanctuaries. ….*inside Pakistan.Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 7:15AM

    “Washington not only has an unfinished war in Afghanistan but also an extraordinary new relationship with India”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    And what is Pakistan;s counter to that extraordinary relationship with India……..that it was Pakistan that arranger Kissinger & Nixons flight to Beijing……sounds like the moan of a woman of 35 with a past but no future………Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 7:48AM

    The author uses the phrase ” advanced democracies”….
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    implying thereby that Pakistans democracy is retarded……. a situation that might soon change !Recommend

  • curious2
    Jul 26, 2016 - 7:54AM

    Nice article.Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 8:05AM

    ” Washington thinks if it gives money it can ask Pakistan to do things even against the country’s own interests. ”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Sir its not that simple……Pakistan wll gladly accept the money and promise to carry out the tasks……….While Takiaya is a fine concept ( roughly cheating the non believrs) it does translate to Duplicitious in Wasjimgton.
    As Hillary Clinton famously said who is forcing Pakistan to accept the money?Recommend

  • wiserneighbour
    Jul 26, 2016 - 8:22AM

    You have summarised the issue pretty well.The issue is Pakistan has not measured the exact influence on these jihadi groups it nurtured as strategic assets at present.It fears the backlash and also disobedience when it need them to undermine other nations.This fire was ignited to burn others,but it is slowly engulfing Pakistan itself.When the fund flows are restricted,they are turning to all kinds of illegal activities.Pakistan will keep the fire burning,for sure.Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 10:43AM

    “Is Pakistan really a friend?”, can a lobbyist give a better answer than Pakistani leaders, or diplomatic officicials”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Yes……the truthful answer.Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 10:47AM

    ” Both are wrong but neither will change.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    False Attempt at Equality, that too after stomaching over 30 Bn USD in the profitable industry called WOT…….Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 11:19AM

    Who Loves Pakistan more? Hillary or Trump?
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    I dont know but either of them will make Obama look like an Angel:)Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 11:24AM

    US-Pakistan relations: can a lobbyist help?
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++
    A lobbyist helps those who help themselves ……( eg India)Recommend

  • F35
    Jul 26, 2016 - 11:33AM

    ” but the problem is Pakistan is bristling with issues of high public concern that are a grist to the media mill and thus consequential for the world of politics, making it hard for Washington to have a good policy towards Pakistan.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    an u pls translate that gibberish into English and also share what constitutes ‘ good policy towards pakistan’ ?
    ( I suspect that is unlimited CSF……..)Recommend

  • Parvez
    Jul 26, 2016 - 12:18PM

    I was a bit slow in getting to read this……but I’m pleased that I did…..excellent read.
    Possibly its time for Pakistan to openly ask ‘ Is America really a friend ? ‘. Recommend

  • Milind
    Jul 26, 2016 - 1:11PM

    A salesman is only effective if he has to peddle a good or an average product.. The same applies to a lobbyist.. A lobbyist no matter highly capable and effective cannot peddle a bad product (Pakistan).Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jul 26, 2016 - 4:03PM

    A lobbyist is nothing but a salesman. An average salesman can sell an good product, a good salesman can may be sell an average product, however no salesman can sell a sub standard product. Pakistan needs a complete overhaul of its mindset, without it no change in policy or strategy is even remotely possible. Only once this task is completed, positive thinking will evolve where the world does not look like a battlefield but more a cooperative. Recommend

  • Mr Obvious
    Jul 27, 2016 - 1:00AM

    Pretty much what Husain Haqqani has been saying in his books/articles/speeches. Somehow Haqqani has been portrayed as “evil” by the Establishment because he wouldn’t Kowtow to the military – tells you something about the power of the military and maybe something about the lack of independence in the “free press”. Recommend

More in Opinion