Pakistan, US should fix their relationship for mutual benefit
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.