The war against terror has left Pakistan’s economy in an unenviable position. The dire state of affairs implies that our government may not have a choice but to request more international assistance at a time when our value in the eyes of the US and other Western powers keeps diminishing.
The extent to which international lending agencies will provide loans to bail out Pakistan depends on the US, which yields immense influence over the IMF and the World Bank, as well as on other major bilateral donors. To deny this fact is to be oblivious to the underlying realpolitik compulsions, which drive the international development aid industry.
Besides the continuing lacklustre attitude of the other ‘Friends of Pakistan’, the US is very displeased with us at present. The US seems to grudge Pakistan for not letting go of its ‘strategic depth’ doctrine in Afghanistan, which it blames for the failure of its own nation-building project in Afghanistan. Instead of having made more diligent efforts to achieve a durable strategic alliance across the region, the US has opted for a more myopic and corrosive approach.
Seemingly fed up with Pakistan’s reluctance to do more, US incursions into Pakistani territory remain undeterred. We are currently facing a diplomatic stalemate as our uneasy alliance with the US has become strained to the limit. In a rare conciliatory gesture, the US Senate majority leader has stalled a move to completely cut off aid to Pakistan, which Republicans had been pushing for to secure the release of the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden. However, the US seems to be in no mood to pay for the extra transit costs being demanded by Pakistan to resume Nato supplies. Why our government took a decade to demand these payments and chose to make this demand when relations with the US are at their lowest ebb, and when Nato is set to pull out of Afghanistan is another issue, rather indicative of the astuteness of our own policymakers.
One wonders if the US will make the same mistake of abandoning Pakistan as it did after the proxy war with the Soviets had ended. It is hard to predict how the US withdrawal will affect Pakistan and its relationship with the struggling Afghan government or the insurgents. Despite rhetorical admission to the fact that poverty and state failure provides the ideal incubators for terrorism and instability, the US has not done enough to instill good governance and sustainable economic development in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Uneasy relations and mistrust have also hindered the possibility of Pakistan playing a more positive role in Afghanistan, subsequent to the US withdrawal. The US has, instead, tried to prop up Indian influence in the region, hoping to keep Pakistan in check as well as to have more leverage vis-à-vis China. It has done so without facilitating a rapprochement between Pakistan and India and the lopsided US attitude has done no more than fan Pakistani fears. In fact, instead of playing a facilitative role, the US has been actively preventing regional cooperation due to its own foreign policy preferences. Despite the potential for alleviating mutual mistrust through energy cooperation, the US continues to apply pressure on Pakistan and India not to enter into a mutual agreement to receive gas supplies from Iran.
As things stand, the chances of continuing regional destabilisation and violence remain high. But unlike the Americans, Pakistan does not have the luxury of packing up and departing from the area. Instead of blaming world powers, which will continue to pursue their own strategic interests, one wonders if Pakistan and its regional neighbours have the foresight to transcend lingering suspicions and devise an inclusive approach to building consensus about — and within — Afghanistan in the post-Nato withdrawal scenario.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2012.
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