Pakistan-US relations on hold

Published: April 24, 2012
The writer is a retired lieutenant general

The writer is a retired lieutenant general

Pakistan-US relations remain on hold as Islamabad has yet to take a final decision on the 14-point recommendations drawn up by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. While resetting its very complex relationship with the US, the government of Pakistan wanted to develop a broad consensus across the political spectrum by giving this responsibility to the parliament. With anti-Americanism at its peak, army leadership, too, would let the parliament formulate a policy. Moreover, by accepting even cosmetic ownership, the government hoped to correct the civil-military imbalance that traditionally remains skewed in favour of the military. It was also expected that involving parliament would enhance Islamabad’s leverage in dealing with Washington.

The approach made sense but a problem was raised which, instead of giving broad guidelines for parliament, has made specific recommendations leaving little scope for manoeuvre. As a consequence, the government despite its willingness and with the backing of the military, is dithering in taking a firm decision to reopen the Nato supply routes. This impasse has provided the rightist and radical parties, including the infamous movement for the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), to whip up anti-Americanism and make the task of the government more difficult. Meanwhile, a full-blown crisis in US-Pakistan relations could emerge due to lack of cooperation in intelligence and counter-terror cooperation.

Intrinsically, Pakistan is not a hostile country but constant US bashing of the Pakistan Army and the ISI followed by a series of unfortunate incidents have antagonised its people. On the American side, with frustrations in Afghanistan running high, there is a tendency to make the Pakistan Army and the ISI scapegoats for their failures. It then becomes a cause and also consequence of anti-American sentiment.

With the Chicago summit being held in May 2012, the Obama Administration is keen that the Nato supply route is reopened soon and progress is made in normalising relations. Obama could then take credit that would help him in his re-election campaign.

In the pre-election period in Washington, there will not be much movement on US-Pakistan relations as the focus would be on domestic politics. This period is, therefore, critical for Pakistan in engaging with the US.

Whereas both America and Pakistan need each other, they have to see how they can reconcile their diverging interests and consolidate the converging ones to create a more effective partnership. Prudence demands that Pakistan should not disassociate itself from the US when the bulk of its forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan and there is not much hope for a smooth transition. It has to play a positive role in stabilising Afghanistan and prevent cross-border insurgency. Both countries should also look beyond the current impasse for a more enduring relationship. Since 9/11, there have been no meaningful economic relations. Washington has not extended any concessions on exports and no progress has been made on the DPC, whereas these measures could complement efforts in countering militancy. Nor has Pakistan taken advantage of the excellent US educational system to develop its human resource.

The Haqqani network and the Taliban Shura remain a major bone of contention with the US. Pakistan’s view, that the Taliban and Haqqanis are useful tools to countervail Indian influence, may have a logic of sorts — but we have to weigh the overall impact of this policy. It has serious consequences on our domestic stability and international standing. Even partial success of the Taliban and their affiliates would inspire and embolden the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and the jihadi forces.

The other difficult question is that relating to drones. America is unlikely to relent on its use despite our protestations until we are able to re-establish our control over a majority of the tribal belt. Drones are a vital weapon system in the US inventory to keep the militants unbalanced. Moreover, it is unwilling to transfer drones or its cutting edge technology to Pakistan. For Pakistan, drone attacks are an embarrassment that compromise its national sovereignty and ego, notwithstanding their useful tactical role in countering terrorism and insurgency. The way to reconcile may be to associate the Pakistani military in intelligence-sharing and through joint identification of targets. This would, however, only be possible after mitigating the trust deficit; a challenge that affects practically most aspects of the relationship between the two countries.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Apr 24, 2012 - 11:01PM

    Unfortunately the warriors and the spies on both sides have been calling the shots in US-Pak relations.

    As a result, the US-Pakistan relations have been in a downward spiral since the passing of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a seasoned diplomat who helped build and implement a unified policy among various US departments and agencies dealing with Pakistan. His replacement Mark Grossman lacks Holbrooke’s heft and behaves more as a subservient bureaucrat than a powerful diplomat. Grossman has been totally ineffective. President Obama’s lack of interest combined with Grossman’s lack of initiative are jeopardizing the entire US agenda in the region.

    It’s time for empowered diplomats to take over and carefully manage this fragile relationship.


  • BlackJack
    Apr 24, 2012 - 11:59PM

    Pakistan has boxed itself into a corner in multiple ways: First, by refusing to stop supporting the Haqqanis and other militants in the hope of using them against India some day – even though the only impact that they currently have is in painting Pakistan as a state harboring terrorists; Second, by imagining that rampant anti-Americanism within the civilian population gives the state a strong bargaining chip with the American forces – as the time for NATO forces to withdraw draws nigh, the desire to accomodate Pakistani concerns declines dramatically; Third, by abdicating executive authority to the legislature and allowing the right wing agenda to effectively hijack state policy – as you have rightly indicated, it leaves the Govt and the army without a face-saving agreement to re-open the NATO supply routes as they both desperately desire; The problem that you have is now not one of civilian vs military – it has become a collective nightmare for both.


  • gp65
    Apr 25, 2012 - 12:13AM

    @Riaz Haq: “President Obama’s lack of interest combined with Grossman’s lack of initiative are jeopardizing the entire US agenda in the region.
    It’s time for empowered diplomats to take over and carefully manage this fragile relationship.”

    What’s in it for the Americans? In Musharraf days Pakistan pretended to act against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqanis who attack the NATO troops. Now tat pretense has been given up. Pakistan has made it clear that it will not act against either of these entities who are safely ensconced in NWA. In light of clearly divergent national interests, a strategic partnership is of no benefit to US. what remains to be negotiated is a transactional relationship of cash (directly from US and also through the Breton Woods institutions) in lieu of supply routes.

    @Author: “Since 9/11, there have been no meaningful economic relations. “

    Not true. Around $20 billion worth of money has been poured into Pakistan which resulted in the significant economic growth during Musharraf period. The loss claimed by government of Pakistan in the ” American War on Terror” is really the opportunity cost of dried up investments due to domestic insurgency by TTP and BLA which has nothing to do with US or Afghan Taliban.


  • Falcon
    Apr 25, 2012 - 12:42AM

    I think Pakistan army should give Pakistani nation and whole region a break by not supporting militant groups. We can patch-up relations with India in a much shorter time frame but the mess that is being created by domestic militancy will take decades to recover from.


  • Harry Stone
    Apr 25, 2012 - 12:46AM

    @Riaz Haq:

    The problem has not been with the US military. The problem is and has been the US diplomates from the US side. I have no idea where the problem lies with PAK but am inclined to believe it is with the PAK military because of how weak the civilian government is.

    The PAK military does two things both counter productive. It supports the non state actors and refuses to engage them. It is more concerned about what India might or might not do that it fails to see what is happening inside PAK and what might happen outside PAK. India might be a concern for PAK because it is right next door but the real danger to PAK is to damage beyond repair its relationship with the US. Lacking a shooting war with India this is the greatest threat PAK faces.


  • gp65
    Apr 25, 2012 - 1:20AM

    @BlackJack: “The problem that you have is now not one of civilian vs military – it has become a collective nightmare for both.”

    I agree that the current impasse IS a nightmare for the military. However military has only itself to blame:
    !) It deliberately fanned anti-Americanism. This has weakened the executive which does not want to take a decision that can be seen as pro- American regardless of whether it suits Pakistani national interests or not.
    2) It has chosen to protect its assets – the Afghan Taliban and Haqqanis first by stealth and when it became clear that stealth wasn’t working , doing so openly.

    I know that you have referred to both these issues n your post as well. The only additional point I want to make is that it is the military NOT the civilian government who has made these choices. In doing so, it has sown the wind and must now reap the whirlwind.


  • Mirza
    Apr 25, 2012 - 1:42AM

    You say “constant US bashing of the Pakistan Army and the ISI followed by a series of unfortunate incidents have antagonised its people”.
    Pakistani people had no hand in protecting and offering a safe haven to OBL in a military base. Common people had no clue where the strategic assets are, or how much money does the army spend on luxuries. After Gen Niazi surrendered against Indians he said that “I have the best soldiers only if I had half as good officers in the army. Your (Indian) officers lead from the front while our’s sit in offices”. I can post the URL later if anybody question’s it.
    Obama does not need Paksitan for his election victory. First he has no serious challenger. He has achieved what Bush could not, getting rid of OBL despite well hidden. Even though Afghan army is a rag tag compared to Pakistani army but all the top terrorists were caught in Pakistan not Afghanistan. That means our army has not been doing its job, hence the Drone attacks would not stop. The generals have to get off their high hogs wake up and smell the coffee. The beggars cannot be the choosers.


  • G.A.
    Apr 25, 2012 - 2:12AM

    During this period of time, Pakistan need to move more cautiously, but along with a stubborn and resolute idea in mind about the very reason of its existence…in history we had been retreating from that idea but that should not be done anymore now, as life is not given without any purpose…


  • Babloo
    Apr 25, 2012 - 2:20AM

    What the author is saying is no different from the world view of the establishment, where concepts like ‘strategic concerns’, an euphemism for support to militant groups like Afghan Taliban and LeT , still dominate the policy with self evident ruinous results.Recommend

  • Apr 25, 2012 - 5:37AM

    @gp65: “What’s in it for the Americans?”

    Have you ever wondered why the US is even attempting to repair relations with Pakistan if there is nothing in it? Why are we even talking about it, and you commenting on it here, if the whole idea of improved US-Pak relations has no merit and the current situation is acceptable to both? Please think about it.


  • venky
    Apr 25, 2012 - 7:33AM


    You said it.


  • Anjaan
    Apr 25, 2012 - 7:54AM

    @ Riaz Haq,

    You are right, there is definitely something for which there is an attempt to repair the relationship. Can you throw some light on “what exactly is in it for the Americans”, since the Soviets are history now, and China is Pakistan’s best friend ….. ?Recommend

  • American Desi
    Apr 25, 2012 - 8:43AM

    @Riaz Haq: US needs Pakistan because it’s a cheaper transportation option for logistics and this relationship is purely transactional in nature. US can not afford to trust Pakistan because Pakistan has multiple power centers always trying to undermine each other. We have paid dearly for trusting by tax payer dollars and many young lives.


  • gp65
    Apr 25, 2012 - 8:50AM

    @Riaz Haq: “Have you ever wondered why the US is even attempting to repair relations with Pakistan if there is nothing in it?”:

    US IS interested in a transactional relationship i.e. cash in lieu of supply route. It is not interested in a strategic relationship. That is what I stated in my earlier post as well. This differs from your assessment hat US needs a strategic relationship but has lost the plot.


  • usmani
    Apr 25, 2012 - 10:50AM

    America – Pakistan talk , when Grossman will visit Pakistan ,would be hinged on the point of stopping of drones attack and resumption of US aid.America would demand Pakistan to carry out Military initiative in North waziristan,in case they want the drones to stop flying in FATA area. Pakistan has not much option, no matter what its parliament has propounded what agenda.Pakistan is ready to open its NATO route, there is not much left in the US Pakistan relation..


  • wonderer
    Apr 25, 2012 - 11:53AM


    You have a good point there but the following part of your comment is not understood:

    Pakistan need to move more cautiously, but along with a stubborn and resolute idea in mind about the very reason of its existence…

    Could you please elaborate on what you mean by “reason of its existence”?

    As far as I know a nation exists to take care of all needs of its citizens and provide security to them. The words needs and security are in their broadest possible sense.


  • Truthbetold
    Apr 25, 2012 - 12:11PM

    @Riaz Haq:

    As others have pointed out, the US is only interested in a cash for favor transactional relationship with Pakistan. Gone are the days of any talk of strategic partnerships. The global community has come to the conclusion that Pakistan is a state-sponsor of terrorism.

    Pakistan has no leverage on the US other than the use of terrorists. As for land route for NATO supplies, yes, the Pakistani land route is cheaper by about $5B a year. This saving is peanuts compared to the overall cost of the Afghan war. So, the supply route is not that big a deal.

    More ominous is the fact that Pakistan needs the US a lot more than the other way about. Without US support, Pak economy will just collapse in a few months. Then there is the big stick that the US can use- officially declaring Pakistan as a state sponsor of global terrorism. That would be totally devastating for Pakistan.


  • G.A.
    Apr 25, 2012 - 7:13PM

    @wonderer: The reason is well known to all Pakistanis i.e. the ideology of Pakistan…..and establishment of a Modern Welfare Islamic State as a perfect model, which could be followed by others.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Apr 25, 2012 - 8:42PM

    sounds to me like a bit of “noora-kushti” on both sides since both sides need each other.


  • Apr 25, 2012 - 9:41PM

    The debate on Pakistan-US relations is on-going and the opinions are varied. The Pakistani Parliamentary Committee on National Security has made a 14-point recommendation that the joint session of the parliament and senate has approved. We said that we respect this democratic act of the Pakistani lawmakers. Ever since the Salala incident, we have been working diligently with our Afghan & Pakistani counterparts so that a similar incident is never repeated. It is time to move beyond that dreadful day and look forward. Pakistan is an important part of the equation to keep the region peaceful. We have to look carefully at people who have benefited from the current impasse. They are the terrorists. We have seen an increase in attacks on Pakistani security personal as well as civilians in the KP area. We have also seen terrorist hits in cities like Karachi and Lahore. Is it not the time to move forward with our relationship of mutual respect and cooperation, so we go after the terrorists who have plagued the region with death and destruction of innocent people?

    Maj David Nevers
    DET-United States Central Command


  • Parvez Amin
    Apr 27, 2012 - 7:41AM

    the best way for you to serve your interests and Pakistan’s is to leave this area completely. You have no justification being in here except perhaps greed. You want the nergy and minerals? Mke a business deal. If that makes no sense to you, then keep on receiving the beating you are getting till the pain becomes unbearable. Time to wake up an GO. SO GO.


  • G.A.
    Apr 28, 2012 - 3:01AM

    What a great concern is being shown for us here by some person from US Centcom, really amazing…all of the militancy, terrorism etc. was never the part of Pakistan people’s life, it all started as soon as an unlucky fellow joined hands in this bullying war of them against the mineral rich countries including our’s.


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