The upcoming Pakistan-US strategic dialogue must honestly address the divergent strategic perceptions, imperatives and compulsions of the two countries. After the last meeting, officials in Washington claim that a trust deficit exists. What are the determinants of this trust deficit? Who is saying one thing and doing another? Who is hiding what and why? One or both partners must now come clean if the partnership is to respond to the genuine needs of their people.
The overriding compulsion of a superpower is to deny freedom of action to a challenger. This is an understandable and expected American strategic aim. It is currently manifested in containing a rampant China, the only possible challenger on the horizon. Pakistan facilitated America’s stated mission to remove the Taliban government and hunt down al Qaeda. But the American mission has broadened and morphed into a very different strategic direction, while the Pakistanis have been grappling with the harsh reality of violence at home.
Pakistanis are now worried about their position in America’s containment strategy vis-à-vis China, and the co-opting of India into it. Many think that their country is being destablised so that India can stand up to China and eventually, America and India can work together to cut off China’s trade corridor through Pakistan. The trust deficit starts from this perceived American strategic shift. This fundamental divergence is the elephant in the dialogue that the Pakistani foreign minister and the army chief can no longer gloss over.
The trust deficit is reinforced by the fact that America is more than willing to spend over $100 billion a year on the war in Afghanistan but not even a fraction of that on weaning potential Taliban and al Qaeda recruits away from a life of militancy, by approving legislation to put in place the much-hyped — initially at least — reconstruction opportunity zones in Fata. There is no talk either of access for Pakistani products to American markets and no disbursement yet of the Kerry-Lugar funds. Furthermore, facilitation of US strategy is destroying Pakistan’s economy and its polity without any offsetting gains.
The US president has set a July 2011 deadline for exiting Afghanistan but the ground reality is that fortress-like missions are being built in Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar. Is Pakistan supposed to believe that the contain-China strategy will also end in July 2011?
Now coming to India — the Pakistanis know that India will never stand up to China on America’s behalf. This means, in all honesty, that the Pakistanis impress upon the Americans the fact that the Indians are already achieving their strategic ends (especially with regard to Pakistan) through Washington and not via China. Proof of this is America’s silence on human rights abuses in Indian Kashmir, while continuing to put pressure on Pakistan on nuclear and other related issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2010.