Pak-US equa­tion

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Huma Yusuf

THE Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion last week no­ti­fied the US Congress that it would sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pak­istan. The an­nounce­ment fol­lows heated con­gres­sional de­bate and sev­eral de­lays, dur­ing which both Repub­li­cans and Democrats have crit­i­cised the deal and en­gaged in Pak­istan­bash­ing. The chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, de­scrib­ing Pak­istan as a "du­plic­i­tous part­ner", said he would block sub­si­dies on the deal.

De­spite the re­sis­tance, a con­gres­sional veto is un­likely at this stage, and the deal will go ahead. As such, it is a re­minder that de­spite a decade of hand­wring­ing over the trans­ac­tional and mis­aligned na­ture of the US-Pak­istan bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship, lit­tle progress has been made on ei­ther side.

There is an un­com­fort­able his­tory to con­tend with in this case: fol­low­ing the Pressler Amend­ment and sub­se­quent im­po­si­tion of nu­clear sanc­tions on Pak­istan, the US in 1990 can­celled the sale of 28 F-16s (the sup­ply only re­sumed af­ter 9/11 and Pak­istan's agree­ment to sup­port the US-led war on ter­ror).

In­dia has raged against the US de­ci­sion to sell F-16s to Pak­istan. The sale (or not) of F-16s is en­meshed with a Pak­istani nar­ra­tive about re­peated aban­don­ments and be­tray­als by the US - dur­ing the 1965 and 1971 wars, the Pressler Amend­ment, the post-Afghanistan van­ish­ing act, the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the US-In­dia civil­ian nu­clear deal in 2008 - and the idea that Wash­ing­ton is only gen­er­ous when it wants to ex­ploit Pak­istan to fur­ther its own goals.

In keep­ing with the pat­tern, the F-16 deal comes at a time when the on-again, off-again US-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship is start­ing to re­cover from the many de­ba­cles of 2011 - Ray­mond Davis, Ab­bot­tabad, Salala - and the US is in­creas­ingly wor­ried about the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan.

The two Shar­ifs made sep­a­rate vis­its to Wash­ing­ton last year and called for an en­dur­ing part­ner­ship. The US con­tin­ues to pump Pak­istani cof­fers with dol­lars: in 2015, the US ap­pro­pri­ated around $371 mil­lion in aid re­lated to se­cu­rity and $468m in eco­nomic as­sis­tance for Pak­istan. A fur­ther $1 bil­lion was re­leased in the form of Coali­tion Sup­port Fund pay­ments to sup­port coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions.

This does not, how­ever, mean that re­la­tions be­tween the two are hunky dory. As con­gres­sional de­bate re­gard­ing the deal has shown, at­ti­tudes to­wards Pak­istan in the United States are quite sour, the main com­plaint be­ing that Pak­istan con­tin­ues to sup­port the Haqqani net­work, which in turn tar­gets Amer­i­can sol­diers in Afghanistan. Pak­istan is mean­while sens­ing an­other exit by the US from the re­gion and ap­pears to be turn­ing its mind to other al­lies - ie China, Saudi Ara­bia - and re­viv­ing its old strate­gies in Afghanistan. Pak­istan is also irked that even af­ter ' do­ing more' - in­clud­ing the launch of ma­jor coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions in North Waziris­tan - it has to face fur­ther de­mands from Wash­ing­ton to crack down on anti-In­dia groups, par­tic­u­larly the Laskhar-e-Taiba.

The grad­ual re-hy­phen­ation of Pak­istan and In­dia in Wash­ing­ton will lead to fur­ther chal­lenges in the USPak­istan equa­tion. Pak­istan blamed de­lays in the F-16 ap­proval on the grow­ing ef­fi­cacy of In­dian lob­by­ists on Capi­tol Hill. In­dia for its part has raged against the US de­ci­sion to sell the F-16s, say­ing they will be used against In­dia, rather than in the fight against re­gional mil­i­tancy.

There are some who spec­u­late that the F-16 no­ti­fi­ca­tion is timed to co­in­cide with the lat­est de­vel­op­ment re­gard­ing In­dia's nu­clear main­stream­ing, its rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the in­sur­ance pool­ing agree­ment of the Con­ven­tion on Sup­ple­men­tary Com­pen­sa­tion, which re­lates to li­a­bil­ity in the event of a nu­clear ac­ci­dent.

If true, this is an awk­ward bal­anc­ing act, par­tic­u­larly fol­low­ing the re­cent brouhaha af­ter it was sug­gested that the US would sup­port Pak­istan's en­try to the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group if it agreed to caps on its nu­clear pro­gramme.

The In­dia di­men­sion of the USPak­istan re­la­tion­ship is in­creas­ing at a time when Amer­i­can fa­tigue of what it terms to be Pak­istani du­plic­ity is lead­ing to greater scru­tiny of Pen­tagon and White House largesse to­wards Pak­istan: in March 2015, the House Com­mit­tee on For­eign Affairs froze $150m in for­eign mil­i­tary fi­nanc­ing and halted the de­liv­ery of US Navy cut­ter ves­sels since they were not nec­es­sary for coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions; $300m of CSF fund­ing was also with­held be­cause Pak­istan did not meet the aid con­di­tions.

The more Pak­istan per­ceives such ac­tions that are borne of frus­tra­tion as be­ing driven by In­dian lob­by­ists, the more dim the prospects for a new align­ment be­tween Is­lam­abad and Wash­ing­ton.

Even with fighter jets ar­riv­ing in Pak­istan, re­sent­ments in both Is­lam­abad and Wash­ing­ton are likely to grow deeper, and be­come more com­plex. Rather than fo­cus on com­plet­ing trans­ac­tions, the two sides should take ad­van­tage of the grad­ual im­prove­ment in ties to work on im­prov­ing trust and trans­parency.

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