Need for lowering expectations

Published: August 23, 2011
The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999

The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999

At a time when relations between Pakistan and the United States have become highly contentious, with mutual accusations and recriminations, amidst a widely acknowledged lack of trust, diplomats and political leaders would do well to read a recently published book that analyses why, how and to what purpose, Pakistan negotiates with the US.

Authored by the husband-and-wife team of two skillful and highly knowledgeable South Asian hands — Howard and Teresita Schaffer, the book, How Pakistan Negotiates with the United States, has been written primarily for the American audience, but it ought to be essential reading for anyone seeking to understand why relations between the two ‘allies’ have appeared as if ‘riding the roller coaster’, with its accompanying exhilarations and disappointments.

More than most other countries, Pakistan’s two historically powerful drivers of its national security policy — fear of its  larger and more powerful neighbour and the desire to play a role larger than that merited by its capabilities — necessitated large, outside ‘balancers’. It is in this context that the two former American diplomats use the vehicle of Pakistan’s negotiating culture to delve deep into the key elements of the country’s domestic politics and the role played by various components, including politicians, as well as the civil and military bureaucracy. What makes it fascinatingly instructive is the reference to incidents and episodes — many based on their personal experiences, supplemented with those from others associated with the process — to reinforce a point of view or to refute popular misperceptions.

But inevitably, the book is also revealing of the American diplomatic negotiating style and therefore contains a bucketful of lessons for our own diplomats and, more so, for the political leaders, many of whose narcissist belief  in their charm and powers of persuasion made them more trusting of their American interlocutors than of their own aides and associates.

The authors confirm the widely held view that each time the two countries have come together — and there have been three such engagements — their alliances have not necessarily been for identical purposes. While they have had understandings on the tactical plain, their strategic goals remained far apart, and they remained convinced that the differences could be brushed under, even though they contained within them the seeds for the inevitable estrangement.

However, the world is no longer the same, first with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the resultant emergence of the sole superpower, which has brought an end to the concept of the balance of power that had been the fulcrum of international relations ever since the Treaty of Westphalia. This has sharply eroded room for manoeuver for the small states. And 9/11 has had a profound influence on global relations, even impacting deeply on the hitherto sacred concept of state sovereignty. With fewer shades of gray, you are either a responsible and responsive member of the international community, or you are a pariah state.

Pakistan remains relevant but barely so and for all the wrong reasons. The country is big but its size only magnifies its weaknesses. It is a nuclear weapons state but its strategic assets have made it more, not less vulnerable to foreign interference, thanks to the warped policies of its rulers. The challenge for Pakistan is therefore huge, even existential. Managing foreign policy is critical but primacy has to be accorded to domestic policy, not only because the two are intrinsically linked, but because the former flows from the latter. A country where the institutions of state are collapsing and governance is either weak and corrupt, or ineffective and inconsequential, can have no foreign policy, other than that of seeking dole-outs. Given these constraints, it is unlikely that our relations with the US will ever become ‘strategic’, but even a limited agenda of cooperative relations requires a lowering of expectations and recognition of existing ground realities — by both sides.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • fahim
    Aug 23, 2011 - 10:45PM

    There is a old saying, cut your cloth according to your size. One of our main problem, as a country and as a society is that we try to act smarter than we are, and try to get involved with “big players” in equal terms, like US, Britain, China and India, although we do not have the resources, the economy, the society, and the capability to play equal terms. Just by making a N bomb, (and we all know how pathetically and illegally it was done), we think we have achieved something big and everyone should treat us equal, while reality is far far from truth. We play to the tunes of our masters in washington and beijing, and call ourselves smart. Good article.


  • syed
    Aug 23, 2011 - 11:50PM

    A good article and some thought provoking exercise for Khar ?
    Hope our leaders and policy makers take lessons from history and carve out a policy which is in the best interest of country .There are no permenant enemies or friends- ?.


  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Aug 24, 2011 - 12:27AM

    You have done a very good book review. Other does not makes any sense. You could have done it during your own time in different capacity of which you boast day in and day out. Now sit on back seat and allow this young lady to apply some of her intellect on foreign policies. Hina and some of her colleagues must have read the book which you have tried to translate with a particular mindset. By the way, Sir, did you cleared your position on some dollars though few in thousands which you failed to pay back to the government during you time in office??????


  • Cautious
    Aug 24, 2011 - 12:44AM

    First six paragraphs made for interesting reading – the concluding paragraph reads like the author was running late for dinner and had to wrap things up (could have been grafted onto any article).


  • Noor Nabi
    Aug 24, 2011 - 1:33AM

    Howard and Teresita Schaffer are players from the past. They are an integral part of the US establishment that wants to maintain and perpetuate the status quo in the Indo-Pak relationship because it serves the strategic interests of the US. It suits this school of thought to have India as a thorn in the side of China and, by the same token, Pakistan as a thorn in the side of India. Anything they write about South Asia needs to be taken with a fistful of salt. The Schaffers are buddy buddy with the likes of Sahibzada Yaqoob (refer to him as good ole Jacob) and one has to be wary of their duplicity. When they are with the Pakistanis they say “you do have some substance in your stand on Kashmir” and when they are in Delhi their mantra is “if Pakistan was also a democracy it would have the maturity and good sense to understand the importance of having good relations with India”.


  • Cynical
    Aug 24, 2011 - 3:06AM


    Very illuminative write up.Calls for deep introspection.


  • vasan
    Aug 24, 2011 - 10:57AM

    I think the author missed out one other important point. Events like AQ Khan episode and OBL’s stay in Abbatobad have a very very influential long term negative effects on Pakistan, which will be difficult to overcome


  • Arindom
    Aug 24, 2011 - 11:35AM

    May I draw an analogy of the key countries of the world to a leafy, peaceful and well-to-do middle-class neighbourhood. While many households may have a Gun, these remain locked and the Gun remains safe in the basement and they don’t talk about it in polite conversations around the neighbourhood. It is meant only for use in an extreme circumstance. Moreover, people in the neighbourhood follow different religions, but respect each other’s religion and respect boundaries and also do not dump garbage over each other’s fence! In this neighbourhood (world community) is a particular family (Pakistan) that proudly wears his Gun (N-weapon) on stuffed carelessly in his belt as he walks on the street openly boasting (Islamic Bomb, talk all the time about the ‘BUMB’ etc) about it, goes on harbouring drunks and rowdies (terrorists) in the house and then when it doesnot have money to buy groceries (economic development) stands in the local shopping centre (IMF) cap in hand begging for money. Once the richest man in the neighbourhood (USA) throws down some money, this family (Pakistan) then goes about talking ill and spreading gossip about this man (US).


  • Jameel
    Aug 24, 2011 - 6:09PM

    A country where the institutions of
    state are collapsing and governance is
    either weak and corrupt, or
    ineffective and inconsequential, can
    have no foreign policy, other than
    that of seeking dole-outs.

    After this is established, who needs to read a book?


  • karim
    Aug 24, 2011 - 6:12PM

    great sir…………..Recommend

  • mkhan
    Aug 24, 2011 - 7:26PM

    @Aftab Kenneth Wilson:
    It is a shame that the only thing you seem to be able to comment is Amb. Fatemi’s personal life and his “boasting”. Frankly people like you should not be allowed to comment because you add nothing to the newspaper and people’s thoughts. Instead of creating a good open dialogue between commentor’s and an atmosphere where intellectuals can voice their thoughts and opinions, you wish to create an atmosphere of narrow mindedness.
    You have nothing really worth writing about – you address our current foreign minister as Hina, in which case she must be either your sister, wife or lifelong friend or more likely you are just a disrespectful person who has no ability to have a fresh, intellectual thought. Mr. Aftab my suggestion to you is not to be threatened by people who have an opinion, if you disagree with Amb. Fatemi’s analysis then kindly state that and give your reasoning based on incidents, facts and sources, otherwise if you have nothing useful to add, stop wasting our time and allow us to focus on the article and the people who have something worth commenting on.


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