Let me make a prediction: Pakistan-US relations will soon return to what passes for normal and any major scaling back of ties will remain at the sole discretion of the US. Pakistan simply remains too profoundly and strategically dependent on the US for any other outcome.
Since its inception, Pakistan has defined its security pre-eminently in military terms and pursued an increasingly untenable military balance with India. The strategic arithmetic of this position is as clear today as it was to Pakistani leaders in 1947: an abiding foreign policy of military confrontation with a foe possessing overwhelming strategic superiority can only be sustained with a powerful, external patron who is militarily, diplomatically and economically underwriting Pakistan’s position.
Geopolitical kismet has played a defining role in Pakistan-US relations. But it is no coincidence that the relationship has thrived in periods of military rule. Realising that no abiding interests unite Pakistan and the US, the generals have ruthlessly maximised geopolitical rent-seeking to offset their weak bargaining position against American imperial power.
Yet historically, civilian Napoleons in the establishment and the political class have stood shoulder to tasselled shoulder with the generals. Even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who likened himself to Hafez alAssad and Kim Il-Sung (comparisons that inspired pride rather than pity in those days), spent much diplomatic capital in upgrading ties with Washington. After all, Pakistan’s military machine, devastated in 1971, needed to be rebuilt to continue the ‘war of a thousand years’ against India.
But the civilian-military entente on India has fragmented since the late 1980s. Most political leaders worth their salt understand that Pakistani peace and prosperity, the legitimacy of civilian rule and the key to keeping the military confined to the barracks, are all tied to a settlement with India. Disposable civilian governments, military adventures like the Kargil fiasco, and even the recent choreographed furore over Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status for India are all signposts of military pushback against a potential settlement.
Even now, the military establishment’s real fear is not continuing a servile relationship with the US, but the approaching reality of a return to the 1990s, when Pakistan faded into insignificance for US foreign policy. This fear is now mingled with terror at the prospect of the US forging an alliance with India instead, something a break in relations could hasten.
Thus, Pakistani dependence on the US will remain as long as the country is tied to a paradigm of confrontation with India. And there are no stand-ins in the wings. Despite misinformed assertions to the contrary, China possesses neither the political will, nor the economic clout or military muscle to replace US largesse. With an eye on Uighur unrest, China is also increasingly sceptical of Pakistan’s proxy jihadists, a dangerously infectious disease cultivated in Pakistan’s anti-India military laboratory. More obviously, it makes little sense to swap dependency on the US for China.
Confrontation with India and the resultant dependence on the US has made Pakistan an absurd place where security is measured in externally oriented F-16s even when these contribute to the daily internal insecurities of poverty, ill-health, illiteracy etc. It has also populated the country with horrors: the suicide bomber, the killer drone and ever-deepening intolerance are the enfants terribles of our policy failures. All this has made Pakistanis more violently anti-American than even the Iraqis, Afghans, Cubans or Iranians.
Ironically, the loudest anti-American voices in Pakistan also tend to be the most anti-Indian. They conveniently blind themselves to the reality that to break free of dependence on the US, Pakistan must reboot its strategic security doctrines and must remain steadfast on the path to normalising relations with India. Exteriority and incompleteness are encoded in the DNA of Pakistan’s national vision. This vision has failed. Only in making peace with India can Pakistan make peace with itself.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2011.