A grave crisis in Pakistan-US relations

Published: November 29, 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 [email protected]

Pakistan’s relations with the United States, even in the best of times, have never been smooth and wrinkle free, but the manner in which they have remained turbulent since the beginning of this year is truly unprecedented.

This is both surprising and disappointing as the Obama administration had entered office determined to enhance our relations beyond the single item agenda seen in earlier times. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, appeared genuinely proud of helping it graduate to a ‘strategic’ partnership, though critics harboured reservations about this claim.

In particular, since early this year, Pakistan-US relations have been lurching from crisis to crisis, renewing old wounds, inflicting new injuries, while adding to the existing legacy of betrayals. The air raid on November 26, however, appears to have thrown a monkey wrench in an already twisted relationship, sending a bolt of anger and outrage among Pakistanis. Abandoning its earlier nonchalant attitude to similar episodes, both the political and the military leadership have reacted with unusual speed and resolve.

The hurriedly summoned meeting of the defence committee of the cabinet (DCC) announced a number of measures indicative of a radical departure from past practice. In particular, the DCC’s decision to “review all programmes, activities and cooperative arrangements with the US and Nato, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence”, as well as the army chief’s order that “all necessary steps be taken for an effective response to this irresponsible act”, are decisions that, if carried through, could have a major impact on the core of our relations with the United States.

What explains this? Is it because of the large number of casualties (the largest since Musharraf’s Kargil adventure), or is it on account of the disappointment that the raid should have come less than 24 hours after General John Allen, the Isaf commander, had met General Kayani and “discussed measures concerning coordination, communication and procedures aimed at enhancing border control on both sides”. It could be both, but also indicative of a deeper malaise afflicting our relations with Washington.

Since the Raymond Davis affair, the army has been on the back foot, caught between its desire to protect its nationalist credentials and to keep the Americans happy. Even though it chose the latter, it was humiliated by the Abbottabad episode and the Mehran Base fiasco — both of which placed the forces and intelligence agencies in the embarrassing situation where they came under searing criticism from lobbies traditionally loyal to them.

Even though Secretary Clinton’s visit last month was a welcome damage limitation exercise, her subsequent statements in India, the Istanbul meeting where a new strategic architecture for the region was unfolded and finally, the memogate scandal, all added to the army’s discomfiture and desperate need to regain the initiative on relations with the US.

The story on the other side of the Atlantic is no less confused and convoluted, with considerable daylight separating the White House from the defence and intelligence agencies. As it becomes increasingly evident that American forces are headed for defeat in Afghanistan, which could have major implications for its influence in the region, the knives are being sharpened in preparation of the inevitable question as to who lost the Afghan war. In this hunt for escapegoats, no quarter will be given and none asked for. Only a month ago, while in Kabul, Secretary Clinton had warned that the US was losing patience with Pakistan but was determined to pursue its goal, irrespective of whether it chose to be helpful or not.

This explains why our military leadership believes that Washington’s interest in Pakistan is transactional and, therefore, has little reason to accommodate their interests, unless ours are promoted. The air raid may be a good opportunity to demonstrate newfound resolve. But is the country prepared to pay the price for having entered into a Faustian bargain in the first place? Unity at home and deft diplomacy abroad, rather than public threats, may be a better option.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • You Said It
    Nov 30, 2011 - 4:09AM

    The establishment has control of the state policy, but since the natural order of affairs (civilians in control of the military) is reversed, they are unable to exercise it with complete cohesion. The crisis-to-crisis existence is a natural outcome.

    The hope is that with PTI in power in the 2013 elections, affairs will fall in order for the establishment just ahead of the 2014 withdrawal. But with the US possibly preparing for another 10 years in Afghanistan with the loya jirga’s blessing, a lot of water will flow in the Kabul River until then and we can’t say if it will bring a flood or harvests.

    Regardless, Pakistan has already decided that its relationship with the US is transactional. The US in turn will not forget, as Republican statements indicate. This may mean more crises when the US doesn’t need Pak, and aid when Pak has something the US needs. Nuclear weapons will be the insurance so that while things can get bad, but not really bad. It’s going to be a bumpy ride until 2024.


  • Arindom
    Nov 30, 2011 - 1:44PM

    Pakistan can solve this entire Afghan imbroglio by one sweep – give up it’s Strategic Asset Policy


  • Bammbaayyaa
    Nov 30, 2011 - 3:47PM

    Nobody belives in Pakistani words …especially which comes out of army and political people … Everybody out there knows … deception can happen at any moment … as they have had first hand experiences … The worst being sending a pakistani general to Tora Bora … for negotiating Taleban surrender …troubles for the world have not stopped since then…
    let the whole thing come to the logical END !!!! …. what say …Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad
    Nov 30, 2011 - 5:04PM

    **MR. Tariq Fatemi

    I think that the matter is critical and now PAK-US relationships are at lower edge. It is evident now that Pakistani Military Establishment is now taking strong action against the US and NATTO. What ever the measures that had been taken by Military Establishment up till now with an effective collaboration of Pakistani Government are well enough to teach them a lesson.

    One thing is required that now we must to stay firm on our decisions. We have to take our friends into confidence and then we can move ahead.

    In end I strongly condiment the assassination of our soldiers by NATO in an intentional attack. I will stand with Pak army in any time of trial.

    Pakistan Army Zindabad
    Pakistan Payendabad**Recommend

  • meekal ahmed
    Nov 30, 2011 - 9:16PM

    I don’t think recent events will cause much damage in the medium-term. Sure there will be some fake bravao and tough words on our part, a few more contrived burning of effigies and a lot of shouting that passes for discussion and analysis on your electronic media.

    At the end of the day, we are too inter-linked and too dependent on each other. Stopping NATO supplies seems to be an excellent example of shooting ourselves in the foot. I don’t know how much government rakes in from that. I suppose it is all a part of the re-imbursements via the CSF. Less inflow for us and more gaps to finance. The US will find, and has found, alternative routes and they can absorb the extra cost even if their budget is a mess.


  • rehmat
    Nov 30, 2011 - 10:44PM

    @Author: “This is both surprising and disappointing as the Obama administration had entered office determined to enhance our relations beyond the single item agenda seen in earlier times”

    It may be disappointing but is not surprising. Pakistan has continued to provide safe haven to afghan Taliban while claiming to support US in the war on terror and being compensated for that. The thousands of deaths that Pakistanis claim as their contribution in the war arise from a local insurgency by TTP which has nothing to do with the global war on terror.

    The $68 billion loss that is claimed due to war on terror is also another smokescreen. Yes – the growth rate of Pak economy and foregn investments to Pakistan have been adversely impacted due to the security situation in Pakistan (these are quanified as the $68 billion costs). However teh security situation deterioration is a direct outcome of deliberate promotion of extremism with Saudi dollars staring from 1979. This poicy was first used to create unpaid soldiers in Afghanistan and later Jammu and Kashmir. The chickens have now come home to roost.

    Unless root cause of problems are appropriately identified through introspection, effective solutions will nto be found.


  • rehmat
    Nov 30, 2011 - 10:52PM

    @meekal ahmed: Sir, you are probably right. However the ongoing policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound will eventually become untenable. The army leadership continues to generate anti-Americanism through meida while at the same time using this anger as a negotiating tools with Americans to gain more dollars and weapons for granting what they want. At some point the people of Pakistan which includes lower ranking army personnel will call their army leadership’s bluff.

    After all how many times can you say
    – “we will kick Americans out of Shamsi base” without following through
    – “we will permamently stop the supply routes ” without following through
    – “we will not tolerate theviolation of our sovereignty” -without folowing through.
    – “we will undertake a thorough review of Pakistani co-operation in the global war on terror” – without folowing through


  • Menon
    Dec 1, 2011 - 10:36PM


    You are asking for the impossible from Pakistan. Introspection, relaity, and truthfullness is not what the country is built on.

    Not going to happen


  • Dec 18, 2011 - 11:25PM

    pak foj ko salam!


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