Those who think that Pakistan and the US are strategic allies or friends, remain delusional. Pakistan, during former president Pervez Musharraf’s regime, could have most certainly been considered a solid partner, but to say we were friends or allies would be ridiculous. We’ve been partners at best, as is highlighted in the language of the joint statement between President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his October visit to Washington last year; the word partner/partnership was used five times. Not just this, the statements of all US officials refer to us as a partner.
Countries that are considered friends and allies have common values –– governing systems, resemblance of culture, strong people-to-people contact, and most importantly, the convergence of interests. Citizens of both countries must be able to relate to each other, while on a governmental level, both sides must be able to agree on certain principles that ensure physical security of both countries. These values, then, become the basis of a strong bilateral relationship, where at least the concerns of preserving one’s way of life, and national security of both parties become mutual. For the US and Pakistan, the most important underlining factor –– trust –– does not exist, and for good reason.
Though the October joint statement mentions the existence of shared democratic values, with a particular emphasis on democracy as a preferred system of governance, any observer knows that Pakistan has a dismal record on human rights, freedom of speech, freedom in general, and the sad state of its minorities. But back to the transactional nature of this relationship, in order for the ties to be looked beyond the realm of security, Pakistan must deal with its terrorism problem, specifically abandoning the use of militant outfits to conduct foreign affairs and deny such elements sanctuary on its soil.
Face it, there is very little, if anything, that is common between the two countries. This relationship is bound to remain a transactional one, and so is the strategic dialogue, which is essentially an exercise for Washington to read Pakistan’s future course and evaluate its actions. US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson reiterated this when he briefed a select group of journalists in Washington. He said the dialogue was not meant to come up with specific “deliverables”, but for both sides to get a clear and better understanding of each other. Suggesting that this relationship is on the right track would be highly misleading. Unless trust is restored, our ties will continue as usual: transactional. Former defence secretary Robert Gates’ memoir and his bluntness is enough to certify this. He wrote that while the US prioritised countering terrorism, Pakistan pursued to maintain its influence in Afghanistan through the same proxies the US considered its enemies.
Though national security adviser Sartaj Aziz urged the US to redefine its relationship with Pakistan beyond just security priorities, the entire strategic dialogue aimed at security-related prerogatives. Energy and economics were a sideshow. The lowest ebb during this dialogue was when Aziz lamented the US for ‘historically not taking Pakistan’s security interest into account’. It’s ironic how a country’s national security adviser can expect another country to prioritise its security interests and concerns. Yet, it’s not entirely Aziz’s fault since a security policy still doesn’t exist. He also went so far as to referring to major events in 2011 as irritants –– the US raid in Abbottabad and slaying of Pakistani troops at the border checkpost. This goes to show our delegation’s compromising demeanor, considering how these actions were characterised.
Policymakers in Pakistan must realise that Washington isn’t Beijing where 100-year plans are sketched. Due to the nature of American democracy and electoral politics, the agenda has the potential to change every four years. A new administration in Washington brings with it its own set of priorities. But instead of focusing on how Washington’s outlook will change, first we must define our own interests.
National security for the Americans is supreme, as it should be for any country. Nothing will ever influence US policy if it contradicts its national security objectives. And Pakistan’s actions have been constantly clashing with it. Thus, we will never be friends or allies.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2014.