Pak­istan, US should fix their re­la­tion­ship for mu­tual ben­e­fit

Pakistan Observer - - FRONT PAGE - Ma­sood Khan

THE US says that the US-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship is “im­por­tant” and “vi­tal”. Pak­istan has, how­ever, ex­pressed con­cern that de­spite some progress in the re­cent past, the re­la­tion­ship is wit­ness­ing a down­ward spi­ral be­cause of the US Congress’s de­ci­sion to stop sale of eight F16 fighter jets to Pak­istan.

The US Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion to block US fund­ing of $430 mil­lion out of $699 mil­lion es­ti­mated for the en­tire pack­age demon­strates one thing most dra­mat­i­cally: In­dia’s in­flu­ence in the US Congress and Ad­min­is­tra­tion. From now on, the US de­ci­sions in re­gard to South Asia, es­pe­cially Pak­istan, will be cleared by Delhi. Wash­ing­ton has sur­ren­dered this space to In­dia vol­un­tar­ily. It is more or less like Is­rael’s veto on the US pol­icy in the Mid­dle East. In­dia has spent years to reach this de­gree of clout and now it is on a firm ground af­ter hav­ing es­tab­lished per­va­sive pres­ence in the US gov­ern­ment, Congress, fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, think tanks and uni­ver­si­ties. It is un­likely that any fu­ture US Ad­min­is­tra­tion in the near fu--

ture will re­verse this trend or even want to do this. Pak­istan will have to live with this re­al­ity.

The rea­sons given by the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee for block­ing the deal - Pak­istan’s al­leged pa­tron­age of the Haqqani Group - are at best flimsy and disin­gen­u­ous. A men­tion of the In­dian pres­sure would have made a cred­i­ble ra­tio­nale be­cause while the US Congress has been giv­ing Afghanistan-re­lated jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for scut­tling the deal, In­dia has been pub­licly vow­ing to scup­per it say­ing the F-16 air­craft would or could be used against In­dia. In fact, it is ev­i­dent that as the Ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­pares to exit from Afghanistan, with­out ac­com­plish­ing it mis­sion, it is look­ing for a scape­goat. Pak­istan seems to fit the bill; but this is a my­opic pol­icy.

In strate­gic terms, the US sees its re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan as a neg­a­tive rather than pos­i­tive lever­age. It wants Pak­istan to curb its nu­clear pro­gramme, which Pak­istan won’t do be­cause of its im­per­a­tive for a sym­met­ric de­ter­rence to­wards In­dia. Or, the US would hope that Pak­istan would per­suade the Tal­iban to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, with­out tak­ing into ac­count that Pak­istan’s sway over the Tal­iban is se­verely lim­ited.

It is pru­dent that Pak­istan con­tin­ues to en­gage the US on the F-16 deal, even if Wash­ing­ton is hostage to In­dian lob­bies. The di­a­logue may not suc­ceed but we should not let the whole af­fair dis­si­pate with­out a con­test. A le­git­i­mate deal is be­ing wrested un­fairly by an an­tag­o­nist in the re­gion. That as­pect should not be al­lowed to blur.

Pak­istan’s protests against the US in re­gard to the F-16 fi­asco are more vo­cif­er­ous than to­wards In­dia. We should make de­marches to In­dia, on record, with the de­mand to stop op­pos­ing Pak­istan in the US Congress.

In­dia is strong in the US mainly be­cause of its roughly three mil­lion Di­as­pora com­mu­nity there. The first, sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion In­dian-Amer­i­cans, and one must say who are ed­u­cated, suave and so­phis­ti­cated, have pen­e­trated in the US sys­tem. Their loy­alty is as strong to In­dia as to the US, their adop­tive coun­try. Of course, there are over­ar­ch­ing strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tions for the US and In­dia, for in­stance con­tain­ing China, but the US pol­icy to­wards Pak­istan is pri­mar­ily driven and shaped by In­dian-Amer­i­cans, with­out whom the lum­ber­ing bu­reau­crats and politi­cians in Delhi could not have pulled off the div­i­dends they are reap­ing in the US now.

Pak­istani Di­as­pora in the US is es­ti­mated to be rang­ing from 800,000 to 1 mil­lion. They have a good pro­file in the US. They com­mand re­spect in the pro­fes­sions they have joined and they are well in­te­grated into the Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. Be­cause of a num­ber of rea­sons, they have been slow in be­com­ing ac­tive po­lit­i­cally. But they are in­creas­ing their pres­ence in Con­gres­sional dis­tricts and on the Hill. There is a Pak­istan Cau­cus in the US Congress which needs to be en­er­gised. Pak­istani-Amer­i­cans are also reach­ing out the US Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The strengths of the Pak­istani com­mu­nity in the US must be lever­aged to counter In­dian in­flu­ence. Some would say that this is al­ready be­ing done but ob­vi­ously the ef­fort has not reached a crit­i­cal point. More ac­tive po­lit­i­cal role by Pak­istani Amer­i­cans in the US would be the real sword and shield for pro­mot­ing and pro­tect­ing Pak­istan’s long-time in­ter­ests.

Another recog­nised driver for ped­dling in­flu­ence in the US is close ties with the cor­po­rate sec­tor which steers poli­cies in a di­rec­tion if their in­ter­ests are linked to a par­tic­u­lar coun­try. Cor­po­rate Amer­ica must have stakes in Pak­istan’s econ­omy so that it can speak for Pak­istan’s de­fense needs at the Pen­tagon, the White House, State De­part­ment and the Hill.

The US should also re­view its pol­icy to­wards Pak­istan. De­spite the pe­ri­odic bon­homie and highly sup­port­ive state­ments by the US lead­er­ship, one is con­fused if the US con­sid­ers Pak­istan an ally or an ad­ver­sary. Re­cent high-level meet­ings have given us hope that the US and Pak­istan would ex­pand their re­la­tion­ship to ar­eas out­side the tra­di­tional se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing trade and in­vest­ment; ed­u­ca­tion, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy; clean, ef­fi­cient and af­ford­able en­ergy; and cli­mate en­trepreneur­ship. Both sides should pur­sue im­ple­men­ta­tion of the “US-Pak­istan Knowl­edge Cor­ri­dor”. With a pop­u­la­tion of 200 mil­lion, a mid­dle class of 82 mil­lion, and a grow­ing econ­omy, Pak­istan is not an in­signif­i­cant coun­try. The US should bal­ance its pol­icy to­wards Pak­istan and In­dia and not turn it into a zero-sum game where one coun­try’s gain, visa-vis the US, should be­come a loss for the other.

Pak­istan is the sec­ond largest Mus­lim coun­try and it would re­main in­flu­en­tial in the Mid­dle East, West Asia, Cen­tral Asia and East Asia. The US would need it to help sta­bilise Afghanistan and keep peace in South Asia. Why then alien­ate Pak­istan? The US dis­en­gaged pre­cip­i­tously from Afghanistan in 1989, left Pak­istan in the lurch and then re­turned a decade later to deal with a big­ger mess. I re­call that af­ter 9/11 Amer­i­can law­mak­ers and of­fi­cials were wring­ing their hands say­ing that to­tal aban­don­ment of the re­gion was not a good idea. That mis­take mustn’t be re­peated.

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