Future trends in Pakistan-US relations

Published: May 6, 2014
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The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Pakistan-US relations have been on the mend and set on a steady course for several months now. Military to military cooperation is running smoothly and Coalition Support Funds are flowing with relatively less hiccups. Economic assistance and support in the energy sector is substantive, especially when we look at the Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu Dam projects. America remains Pakistan’s largest trading partner. Due to Washington’s backing, the World Bank, the IMF and other multilateral agencies are extending support for major projects and extending loans to boost the overall liquidity position. Intelligence cooperation, too, is somewhat improving, although mutual suspicions remain. More importantly, strategic dialogue has been revived that places the relationship in a structured framework providing continuity. Adversarial reporting about Pakistan’s nuclear assets in the US and Western press is also on the decline. Both countries now desist from airing their grievances in public, a practice which was vitiating the atmosphere. Differences in policy or divergence in approach is discussed in meetings and not under the glare of the media.

Public perception, however, of each other remains poor and mirrors the hostility built-up in the past. Hopefully, this will change, reflecting the new ambiance, provided the two countries are able to sustain this trend.

These are welcome developments, coming as they do in the backdrop of a very turbulent period when everything seems to be going awry, whether it was the shooting of two Pakistanis by CIA operative Raymond Davis, the Salala massacre or the humiliation suffered by Pakistan from the unilateral hunt for OBL that led to his assassination.

Despite the optimistic side of recent developments, this by no means is a transformative change and much would depend on how Islamabad and Washington view each other’s policies vis-a-vis their dealings with Afghanistan, Iran and India in the post-US withdrawal phase. Because, as of now, it is a very open question how Pakistan will manage its relations with the new leadership in the region. Equally significant in this equation would be how Pakistan handles its internal security problems. These factors will determine the future course and tone of the relationship.

This leads to the question as to what are the mutual expectations that are critical for building trust and continuity in the relationship. Pakistan expects the US will not abandon the region as it did during the 1990s. An assured commitment to stay engaged will depend on signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement by the Afghan government, chances of which appear to be fairly bright, as the two top contenders for the presidential election — Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani — have expressed their willingness to sign the treaty. Better management of the western border should be a priority for Washington and Islamabad. A US perennial demand from Pakistan has been to deny sanctuary to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. As US forces are withdrawing, this group that has already overstayed our hospitality should leave for Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan have to clear safe havens that are under the control of militants and are being used for launching attacks on each other’s territory. As long as the governments do not establish the writ of the state in their respective areas and continue patronising each other’s enemies, mutual trust will remain elusive and a major source of friction between the two countries and will also affect our relations with the US.

Ensuring an unhindered operation of Isaf Ground Lines of Communication in Afghanistan during the coming months will be essential for Pakistan. This is an international obligation and crucial for maintaining the confidence of US and Nato countries.

Since the last few months, the US has wisely suspended the use of drones in Pakistan. Its political damage far exceeded the tactical gains that it was supposed to bring. Moreover, it has deprived the rightist political parties of exploiting this major irritant to spew anti-American propaganda.

Another major hurdle is Washington’s opposition to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project at a time when Pakistan is experiencing a severe energy crisis. American objection to this project sends a negative message and harms its image. The hard reality, however, is that until Iran and the P5+1 are able to reach a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme international sanctions will remain in force and Pakistan will have to grudgingly manage it.

Islamabad, like the rest of the world, would be closely watching the results of the forthcoming Indian and Afghan elections. If Modi was to win in India and Abdullah Abdullah elected president in Afghanistan, this would probably be the most desirable outcome from Washington and New Delhi’s point of view. Although Mr Sartaj Aziz and the Foreign Office spokesperson have reiterated that we will deal with whosoever comes to power, this development will require considerable finesse and skill in handling as this has implications on Pakistan-US relations and on regional and internal stability.

The Indo-US strategic partnership and their close ties are now a reality that Pakistan and the world are reconciled to. Washington’s insistence that India and Pakistan settle their differences on Kashmir at the bilateral level and that it will not play any facilitation role in resolving it is not new. New Delhi is not willing to accept any involvement of a third party in resolving disputes nor does it have the desire to resolve these at the bilateral level. Moreover, India feels it is a major regional and global player that cannot subject itself to mediation. For the US, India is a major destination of its investments and exports including military hardware. Besides, a close strategic partnership has developed between them in the last 10 years.

This, however, does not imply that it is a zero-sum game. Pakistan has its own importance due to its geostrategic position linking South with Central and West Asia, as a nuclear power and a state that can play a key role in the stability of Afghanistan. Finally, Pakistan’s importance to the US and the world in future will largely depend on its internal stability and contribution towards regional harmony and peace.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • shahid
    May 7, 2014 - 2:45AM

    As always this article from the author is yet another one that regurgitate the US view point on the current issues disguised as analysis of events. Rewriting the history and presenting a limited set of carefully selected factoids is a hall mark of such analysis. This article unfortunately is just that.

    Recommend

  • RD Sultan
    May 7, 2014 - 3:09AM

    Zindabad General Sahib!

    Recommend

  • Asif
    May 7, 2014 - 4:53AM

    as of now Pakistan is important to the world for 2 reasons only – terrorism and polio. we can imagine lot of other things. but this is the situation.

    Recommend

  • Vishal sharma
    May 7, 2014 - 5:40AM

    Sir,
    India’s role as an economic and regional player is extremely exaggerated. In fact if you consider the issues of naxal revolts spread to a third of India, separatist desires within so many provinces , education and sanitation crises etc. you will see that India has a long way to go.
    India and Pakistan should sit on the table and sort these multiple problems out

    Recommend

  • F
    May 7, 2014 - 6:25AM

    Nations, like individuals, with good finances, laws, tolerance, self esteem and values make contributions.

    Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    May 7, 2014 - 8:16AM

    @author: ” … The Indo-US strategic partnership and their close ties are now a reality that Pakistan and the world are reconciled to. … “

    Pakistan is the only country that had to “reconcile” to a India-US strategic partnership. All others welcomed the increased Indo-US partnership, including China.

    Recommend

  • nadeem
    May 7, 2014 - 9:52AM

    Pakistan will only progress if its main focus is the welfare and uplift of its 180 million citizens. If this requires slashing of military expenses, or any other expenses, so be it. The bureacrats, politicians, and generals must all be told that they are here to ‘serve’, not to ‘rule’. Welfare of the people means all children go to (good) schools, all sick citizens below a certain income get (good) medical treatment from the state, rule of law and justice is established, we are at peace with neighbors and are not proxying for any foreign power, basic utilities are guaranteed (clean water, electricity, gas), taxation is reformed and taxes are collected, and there is a general sense in the people that the state and the government are at their service. Up until now, we have been a military-oriented state, where the only barometer of national strength was military power and let the citizens go to h*. This phase is definitely over if this country has to remain on the world map.

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  • Strategic Asset
    May 7, 2014 - 12:59PM

    @Vishal sharma: Are you anatanu under a new name? SStop pretending to be an Indian.

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  • B
    May 7, 2014 - 1:42PM

    @nadeem:
    Bravo.

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  • unbelievable
    May 7, 2014 - 2:07PM

    Pakistan and Afghanistan have to clear safe havens that are under the control of militants and are being used for launching attacks on each other’s territory.
    .
    USA, NATO and Afghanistan have been asking Pakistan to eliminate sanctuaries for 12+ years. All the talk about supporting Afghanistan or improved relationship with the USA always conveniently ignores your duplicitous behavior – and you actually think that neither the USA or Afghanistan is going to hold that against you. Guess again.

    Recommend

  • Nikki
    May 7, 2014 - 3:04PM

    In deed, Pakistan’s importance cant be ruled out becuase it is naturally located on international trade corridor,but peace is importatnt, Pakistan is importatnt if it is clean like crystal from Talibanization.

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  • Rex Minor
    May 7, 2014 - 5:44PM

    @Asif

    You forgot to mention that it has too many retired Generals; most wanting to become journalists?

    Rex Minor:

    Recommend

  • unbelievable
    May 7, 2014 - 5:59PM

    @Nikki:

    In deed, Pakistan’s importance cant be
    ruled out becuase it is naturally
    located on international trade
    corridor,

    That’s a std mantra in Pakistan but how many centuries do you have to go back before that was true? The only substantial international trade item that gets focus is either the IP or TAPI pipelines but nobody stops to ask why either is critical to the USA which isn’t going to get a drop of that energy and has actually evolved into an exporter of oil since those pipelines were conceived.

    Recommend

  • Assad
    May 7, 2014 - 7:17PM

    A very pragmatic article. Most of the comments above are just nitpicking even though Talat Masood has it right on.

    Recommend

  • Lalit
    May 7, 2014 - 10:47PM

    @Vishal sharma: how many STATES(not provinces) in India are fighting for a separate nationhood ? Naxal influence over one third of the Indian territory ????
    and as far as India being an economic power is concerned…you would be delighted to note that India surpassed Japan last week to become third largest economy on the basis of purchasing power parity.

    Recommend

  • Sexton Blake
    May 8, 2014 - 9:25AM

    @unbelievable:
    Dear unbelievable,
    You are semi-correct. The US does export a few gallons of oil, but is a massive net importer of oil. Imports:9000 barrels per day. Exports 3000 barrels per day. I hope this helps you.

    Recommend

  • Bharat
    May 8, 2014 - 1:13PM

    and what about Kashmir ?

    You conveniently forgot about the most critical issue that is a thorn in India Pak relations.

    Solving it,will lead to prosperity and peace for South Asia

    Recommend

  • abc
    Jun 5, 2014 - 12:07PM

    Pakistani junta has a hard time digesting the reality that India is in a different league of its own and Pakistan can’t come anywhere close to it in next 100 years. It is in Pak’s interest that it accepts its follies and shortcomings. It should also understand that it is and it can’t be ever equal to India. Then only Pakistan can move ahead and progress.

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