Strategic, someone said?

Published: October 22, 2013
The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

Let’s begin with the issue of protocol. The idea is grounded in the two concepts of equality and reciprocity. Ministers call on prime ministers and presidents, not the other way round.

In Pakistan’s case, our degradation begins with the violation of protocol. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, ended up going to the State Department to hold talks with Secretary of State, John Kerry. The meeting was followed by a working dinner. Nothing new in this. In 1998, Prime Minister Sharif went to the Pentagon and met with then Secretary of Defence William Cohen.

Perhaps I am nit-picking. It could well be that Mr Sharif met with Mr Kerry in his capacity as the foreign minister of Pakistan. Today, he will meet President Barack Obama as the prime minister. In between, I suggest a visit to the Pentagon as the defence minister, and he could always swing by the office of Ms Penny Pritzker as the commerce minister.

Ah! But I forget. Mr Sharif did get full protocol at Joint Base Andrews. I feel so relieved.

Now to the ‘strategic dialogue’ under the revived mechanism. (Aside: I love diplomatese.) But lest the more uncharitable ones call it lying, it’s not. Diplomatese is about withholding the truth, thank you.

Fortunately, I have no reason to do that. The strategic spread of US-Pakistan relations covers about as much as a string bikini and that’s not new. That has always been the case, pronouncements on both sides, more on ours than theirs, notwithstanding.

Strategic relations are about mutual interests. I cannot think of any time since the visit to the US by Liaquat Ali Khan when the two sides shared the same vision even as Pakistan was declared the ‘most allied ally’ of the United States. Examples abound but much is already known so I shall skip that part like I do the ads on banned YouTube clips.

The point is simple. The US sits atop the security architecture it created after the Second World War and has since tried to sustain. It has to deal with every country in the world; well, almost. It has both core and peripheral interests. It fights overtly and covertly for both. It divides the world into two categories: its allies and its enemies. The ‘allies’ category itself is sub-divided into two: permanent and temporary. With the first it deals strategically; with the second, tactically and under pressure of the immediacy of the situation. The tactical alliances have strategic significance for it in the larger picture but for the lesser state to think that an invitation to Camp David (Pervez Musharraf is a case in point) means the relations are strategic for it too is to willingly suspend disbelief.

Here’s the reality of the strategic alliance, taking 2000 as the cut-off year: President Clinton comes to Pakistan on March 25 for a few hours. He was returning from a five-day visit to India. President Bush came to Pakistan for a day, arriving March 3, 2006, and leaving the next day. President Obama, the man who wants Pakistan to play a very important role while he pulls troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 has yet to visit the important ‘strategic’ ally. Of his various visits abroad, he has been to Ghana and the Vatican City!

Obama’s other significant contributions to promoting strategic ties include ensuring the vast networks of spies inside Pakistan, which the CIA began putting on the ground during the Bush period, was made vaster and more reliable (the Raymond Davis episode is a good reminder of that); ingressing into Pakistani territory (Abbottabad); killing with deadly force 24 personnel of the Pakistan Army (Salala); refusing to apologise for Salala, et cetera.

But, if truth be told, much of what has happened and is likely to happen is owed to our poltroonery. Since we cannot manage our affairs and since, at the end of the day, we always run to Blair House, to use a metaphor, the US can do unto us what it wishes and we must take what is thrown us. Small wonder then that unlike the Melians, we cannot even ask the Athenian generals “And how, pray, could it turn out as good for us to serve as for you to rule?”

This is not a case against the US, it’s a case against us. The US is a world power, like it or not. Pakistan, like other countries, has to deal with it. But strategic relations are a function of interesting the world, not worrying it. I started with the issue of protocol. It wasn’t hair-splitting. It is a manifestation of how we look at ourselves. The external world is not going to grant us anything more than what we grant ourselves — in fact, less.

So, yes, the US needs us right now. It has to get out of Afghanistan. We have to help it do that. But does it go beyond that? Only to the extent that the US would want this area to be free of terrorism because that, in case we forget, is about the US’ strategic interest. Is it in ours too? I hope so. Because only then we could hope to build something that might look like a strategic relationship.

In other words, we have to embrace realism. Those who think that hawkish chest-beating is realism need to go back to an IR class because nothing could be further from truth. Ideological approaches constrain realist choices.

Finally, to be even-handed on the issue of protocol, this is what I had written during the PPP government when I saw the late Ambassador Holbrooke addressing a joint presser in Islamabad:

“… frankly, what was this freak show in Islamabad with the President of Pakistan standing in attendance like a spineless wonder?

“Did protocol demand that the president be in attendance when Holbrooke is holding a press conference with the foreign minister? … In fact, if protocol be made the benchmark, even the foreign minister should not have been there.

“Protocol is not snobbery; it is about the dignity of a government and that of the state and society it represents.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Vakil
    Oct 22, 2013 - 10:23PM

    @Author: … Only to the extent that the US would want this area to be free of terrorism because that, in case we forget, is about the US’ strategic interest. Is it in ours too? I hope so. — I have news for you mate… it is in Pakistan’s interest that the “terrorism” factor is maintained in the region — that is the ONLY WAY that the world (esp the USA) remains interested in it. Why else would anyone bother with it? I mean, seriously WHAT (else) precisely (for the foreseeable future at any rate) does this Land of the Pure have to offer? “Free of Terrorism” ??? My smelly foot! As much as I would love to consider otherwise, the issue of “terrorism” is here to stay… only that it is dressed-up in a different way — Freedom-fighting… religious awakening… strategic depth sharing… etc etc..


  • Rajeev Kumar
    Oct 22, 2013 - 10:49PM

    Here it comes!! Ghairat brigade!! What is Pakistan’s standing in the world today ? Most people outside Pakistan would associate it with terrorism, extremism, troublemaker etc etc. And the ghiarait brigade continues to live in its own cocoon dreaming that world won’t move an inch forward without Pakistan’s help.


  • Desi Boy
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:09PM

    Mr Haider,

    Your previous articles were too complicated for me to read.

    But this one does the job well. Please write credible information in a readable manner like this in the future also.

    Damn good stuff Sir !


  • Np
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:22PM

    Speaking of protocol, it would have been nice if you had also referred to the protocol you awarded to visiting Chinese premier and the protocol China awarded you when a few weeks later Nawaz Sharif visited China,


  • ModiFied
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:30PM

    Malala got a much better protocol at white house than NS is likely to get. Obama not only received her with his wife and daughter, but saw her off personally. Let Pakistani leaders stand for values, they too will get protocols befitting their stature. Do you expect protocol for NS who is nothing but other side of TTP.


  • ashar
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:31PM

    The only protocols observed now a days by US are Jewish protocols and according to them all Muslim states should be humiliated as much as possible and this is not difficult for them since not all of them are led by leaders like Mahatir or Ardagan.


  • usman ali
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:43PM

    fairly balanced analysis.Recommend

  • unbelievable
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:51PM

    It’s common for leaders of other countries to spend time in meetings with people other than the President of the USA – they don’t consider it an insult so why should the author or Sharif. Further – it was Sharif that was desperate for a photo op with the President – certainly not Obama who hasn’t even talked with a Pakistani since he informed Zardari of OBL demise.


  • Nadir
    Oct 22, 2013 - 11:55PM

    Why do you need to slag of Ghana and the Vatican City?


  • Anon
    Oct 23, 2013 - 12:10AM

    I agree with pretty much everything except for one point…. The US’s only interest is the elimination of terror in the region? And so if we just go along with it we’ll come out fine?

    After all this talk about world players and strategic positioning, surely you dont believe anything as simplistic as that?!


  • Anon
    Oct 23, 2013 - 12:15AM

    Perhaps if you also outlined how a lack funds in the state coffers… driven primarily by one corrupt government after the other lining their own pockets… results in all our “leaders” selling our national interests just to keep our head above water. About how NS and co. have so much money outside the country they can actually do little but to take orders… lest they be deprived of their hard-looted wealth and power.

    Perhaps if you then went on explain how such corruption is basically at the root of all of this and is eating away at the state from every such angle. And then, perhaps if you topped that up an appeal to everyone to get their act together… stop playing “liberal” and “conservative” and just try to focus on the basics… honesty, integrity etc… then maybe we could start clawing our way out of this hole.

    Then your analysis would be complete!


  • Oct 23, 2013 - 12:40AM

    Style matters so much over substance for Pakistani opinion makers such as yourself. So would it make you feel good if NS was given proper protocol? I believe the USA is finally learning its lesson the hard way when it comes to Pakistan – hurt that country’s establishment where it really hurts – shortchange them in terms of photo ops and protocol.


  • Arindom
    Oct 23, 2013 - 2:06AM

    Good article – drills into me better the meaning of the saying – ” Others will respect you as much as you respect ourself”


  • Anjaan
    Oct 23, 2013 - 3:00AM

    So now the big question for the people of Pakistan is …. in order for Pakistan to align itself with American interests, as mentioned in this article, are we going to see a real turning point, a historic climb down on the issues of Kashmir, strategic depth and last but not the least, terrorism ….. ? …… the other alternative will not be pleasant for Pakistan and its people ……Recommend

  • Riaz Khan
    Oct 23, 2013 - 11:46AM

    Outstanding article but not good enough to wake up dead brains of failing nation!


  • TheMonk
    Oct 23, 2013 - 2:59PM

    Respect is earned, Mr. Haider, not thrust upon. Pakistan may be a big deal to you, but to the rest of the world, you are a backward nation, whose export is terrorism and terrorists, while holding out the begging bowl for the largesse of the United States. And you propose that you are in the same stratosphere? Get real my friend!


  • polpot
    Oct 23, 2013 - 4:28PM

    the most transactional relationship in this world
    US Pak.


  • Common sense
    Oct 23, 2013 - 6:53PM

    It is intriguing indeed that a country that has nothing going for it except its expertise in making trouble , a country that cannot survive with continuous dole outs has intellectuals preaching ‘self respect’. How about teaching some gratitude?


  • Agnostic
    Oct 23, 2013 - 8:10PM

    Let us acknowledge that the author has pinpointed something very important. Obama respects honourable Pakistanis like Malala and despises self-seeking Pakistani rulers. But Obama may be mistaken in humiliating Pakistan as a state. The country’s importance lies in something beyond his control, its geographical placement. And the boys in Rawalpindi know that. Politicians like Obama and Sharif will come and go. Real estate stays where it is. Ejaz Haider seems to have completely overlooked that factor. For me, in the final analysis, it is not the White House or the National Security Council that usually plays the tune called by the occupant of the White House, but the permanent defence establishment of the US -you can call it Pentagon- that is the guardian of strategic interests. It is Pentagon’s relationship with the GHQ in Rawalpindi that takes precedence over the politicians’ comings and goings. Too bad Obama failed to reflect that and rode Pakistan roughshod. Mr. Obama, you are but a passing phase.


  • Rex Minor
    Oct 23, 2013 - 8:51PM

    @Riaz Khan:

    Let me try again and see if the moderator accepts my input this time.
    Outstanding article indeed and so is the outstanding commentry from Vakil. The Taliban do observe the protocal namely no negotiations with the enemy until the enemy recognises and respects your sovereignt! What the author has not alluded to that Mr Obama did not visit Afghanistan during daylight!! Perhaps he finds Pakistan not a friendly place even during the darkness of the night?

    Rex Minor


  • nrmr44
    Oct 23, 2013 - 9:27PM

    I see a lot of labored writings from Pakistan, most of them negative regarding Pakistan, most of them apparently incontrovertible. Most of them very obvious, too, with recitation of facts that are plainly visible even to Pakistanis, I am sure.
    What I never see in any writing is a list of corrective actions that need to follow inevitably. That bit seems to stick in the throats of the wise men. What, in the present instance, are the action points, Mr Haider? Start raising investment capital? Start raising domestic revenue through taxes? Launch a medium-term and long term plan to make the country financially viable? But that would have consequences would it not? No more expansive ‘strategic’ ambitions; nuclear weapons rendered worthless; military budget vaporized; religion back to its proper place; nothing on the table except what is relevant to economic health. It would be a dull life, not anything that will fire the imagination of a people who draw their inspiration from Salauddin and Babur.
    It might eventually get Pakistan some respect, just for striving in the right direction, but it would definitely be a dull undertaking.
    Maybe Pakistan is better off on its current path. And its wise men can always continue writing towering analyses to make things even better.


  • truthbetold
    Oct 23, 2013 - 10:14PM

    What a change from the past two plus years when Ejaaz Haider used to be a sincere parrot of the Deep State! Now, he seems to have found true “religion” on the state of affairs in Pakistan and geopolitical realities!!


  • Last Word
    Oct 23, 2013 - 10:58PM

    The fact of the matter is that US considers Pakistan as epicenter of terrorism whom it cannot reform, an unreliable ally and a perpetual financial liability. US, who has since been embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, finds itself in a serious financial mess without achieving any strategic goals and pressing domestic issues has recently shifted its foreign policy to pragmatism. US recent softening of its stand on Iran and Syria is the testimony to this change which is much to dismay of both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Pakistan too should expect the same treatment after 2014 when bulk of US forces leave Afghanistan and US financial and military aid to this country will suddenly dry up and it will have to deal with the turmoil both at home and in the neighbouring Afghanistan.


  • Rex Minor
    Oct 23, 2013 - 11:08PM


    I am not a Pakistani and I like your logcal thinking, but also know that logic is not the truth. Now please tell me which of the countries in the world you reckon is financialy viable? In other words lives within its own means? I would leave USA alone, their ship is now sinking and living on the borrowed time.

    For Pakistan I would recommend the priority be given to EDUCATION, this is what Malala the sixteen year old Pakistani girl said in the UNO. EDUCATION with dedication will enegise the brain to consider all those nice things you said. Pakistan educational institutional system is guided by the colonial anglo saxon system which is regressive for the future.

    Have a nice day sir,

    Rex Minor.


  • Denim
    Oct 23, 2013 - 11:41PM

    @Rex Minor:
    Not being a Paki, you are more delusion then they are with your daily comments funny comments.


  • nrmr44
    Oct 24, 2013 - 7:30AM

    @Rex Minor:
    Education is very definitely an item. So is public health. And food. And Energy, without which even dreams can’t be propagated. But that was precisely my point: after providing for these, how much will be left for strutting and swaggering?

    Allow me to point out that, but for their condition spilling over into the outer world, no one would even be writing about Pakistan. For much of the world, with their present outlook and conduct, they would have dropped off the planet.

    Re logic and the financial viability of other nations, I hope you are not serious!


  • Rex Minor
    Oct 24, 2013 - 2:11PM


    Education is not an item but is a prerequisite and the key to the success in other fields that you mentioned. I was very serious about the financial viability of othedr Nations.

    The USA is a bankrupt country but despite hiccups at times is somehow functioning and with the credit from China and the Saudi monarchy. All European countries are living beyond their means on credit but still functioning. This is the miracle of capitalism.

    Innovation and creativity is what one needs from the people for progress and this requires motivation. What the Nations with half the size of Pakistan population can achieve should not be difficult to accomplish with 180 million people.

    Rex Minor


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