Relations with the United States
Pakistan’s relations since the early 1950s with its mentor, the United States, has been a roller-coaster ride. Pakistan has been kept afloat all these years by generous doles of economic and military aid from the United States, first to combat communism in Asia, thence to combat the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan by training and equipping the Afghan Mujahideen, and since the early 1990s to combat terrorism as the United States’ regional standard bearer in the Aft-Pak region, where its own participation in fomenting terror is well known and American policymakers, much against their wishes, continue to underplay. Nevertheless, Pakistan has diverted a fair amount of this aid to India-centric military machine building. Currently, Pakistan is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel and Afghanistan.
Pakistan has diverted a fair amount of aid to India-centric military machine building. Currently, Pakistan is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel and Afghanistan.
Contemporary relations between the two countries have certainly dipped after the United States launched Op Gerinomo—the assault and killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a few kilometres away from sensitive Pakistan military installations, which has raised Pakistan’s complicity with the terror chief or its incompetence in not knowing Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts so close to its military installations. U.S. Congressmen are up in arms against Pakistan’s duplicity, asking the Obama administration to stop aid to Pakistan. Many high-level visits in the last few weeks, after Osama bin Laden’s killing, have been undertaken to Islamabad, including by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the CIA chief Leon Panetta apart from the top U.S. military leadership, to caution Pakistan. Nevertheless at least till the U.S. troops are in neighbouring Afghanistan, with the two logistically critical overland routes to Afghanistan running through Pakistan, the United States cannot detach itself from Pakistan’s machinations and will go along employing the “carrots and stick” policy. The United States is also aware of the expanding China-Pakistan relationship and will not like to cede its strategic space to China in Pakistan. It will thus not entirely forsake Pakistan and abandon the billions of dollars it has sunk in Pakistan since years of its “ups and downs” and very complicated relationship with Pakistan.
The United States is also aware of the expanding China-Pakistan relationship and will not like to cede its strategic space to China in Pakistan.
The radicalisation of some elements in the Pakistani armed forces and consequently their loyalties and commitment in safeguarding Pakistan’s growing nuclear assets to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands is a cause of much concern to the United States and Pakistan’s neighbours, especially India. A leading U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, recently expressed American predicament in its dealings with Pakistan by stating that “Pakistan, you can’t trust ‘em and you can’t abandon ‘em.”11
Afghanistan and the Quest for Strategic Depth
Hapless, impoverished Afghanistan has been the victim of many “great games” in its turbulent history and even today suffers from the same malaise. Its fellow Islamic neighbour, Pakistan, contributes much to its political instability by propping up anti-West and anti-Karzai Pashtun groups, like the Afghani Taliban, warlords like Gulbuddin Hekayatmar, the Haqqani network and al-Qaeda elements, to ensure that any Kabul regime in the future remains Islamabad pliant. Sensing that the United States may stick to its schedule of commencing withdrawal from the Afghan quagmire from July 2011 onwards, as announced by President Obama, Pakistan will endeavour to move into the strategic space vacated by the United States. Pakistan has always sought strategic depth in Afghanistan vis-à-vis India to protect its rear flank and thus sees an opportunity to limit even India’s development-orientated role in Afghanistan consequent to the U.S.-NATO withdrawal.
“¦most analysts believe that Afghanistan is a basket case for United States determination to counter terror worldwide and hence the United States is not going to abandon Kabul”¦
Not surprisingly and entirely in tune with its duplicitous nature, Pakistan has commenced lobbying Afghanistan to dump the United States and instead look for a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan and its ally, China. This pitch was made at an 16 April 2011 meeting in Kabul by Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who bluntly told Afghan president Hamid Karzai that the Americans had failed them both and that Afghanistan must not allow a long-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan. A spokesperson for President Karzai, however, denied that such a suggestion came from Pakistan but added that “even if they did, the Afghan government would never accept it.”12 Notwithstanding Pakistan’s overtures and U.S. president Obama’s timetable for the withdrawal of troops by 2014, most analysts believe that Afghanistan is a basket case for United States’ determination to counter terror worldwide and hence the United States is not going to abandon Kabul so fast and, in reality, is in for a long-term presence in this region.
The immediate future portends “interesting times” in this politically unstable region not only for Afghanistan and Pakistan but also for all the other leading players who have a stake in this region, namely India, the United States, Iran, China and even Russia.
The Nuclear Factor
Pakistan’s nuclear program took shape under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, immediately after India tested a “peaceful nuclear device” in 1974, with his famous exhortation to produce an Islamic nuclear bomb even if the Pakistanis have to eat grass. Though initially Washington managed to persuade France not to sell a reprocessing plant to Pakistan, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for a European nuclear consortium, managed to steal classified information and materials and pass them on to Bhutto’s government and the Pakistan nuclear program was thus launched. The U.S. response has been a series of flip-flops determined by immediate political needs rather than any long-term strategic thinking. U.S. government sanctions imposed from time to time have been successively withdrawn to reward Pakistan, first for its anti-Soviet efforts in Afghanistan and then later as an incentive for Pakistan to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Taliban.