What keeps ties be­tween US and Pak­istan tick­ing

The Asian Age - - Books+ - In­dranil Ban­er­jie

The strate­gic es­tab­lish­ment in the United States re­alised in the late 1940s the im­por­tance of Pak­istan’s ge­og­ra­phy in the emerg­ing world or­der with the Soviet Union hang­ing over Asia and the oil rich Mid­dle East wedged be­tween un­sta­ble, com­pet­ing re­gional forces. Pak­istan there­after be­came a key fac­tor in Washington’s Asia pol­icy. And while much might have changed in the USPak­istan equa­tion, this fun­da­men­tal fact has not.

This ex­plains why re­la­tions be­tween Washington and Rawalpindi, de­spite all the strife and bad blood, have not snapped. The sub­ject of strate­gic writer Shuja Nawaz’s lat­est book, The Bat­tle for Pak­istan, ad­dresses pre­cisely this fact.

“The US-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship has of­ten been com­pared to a bad mar­riage,” the au­thor writes in his pref­ace. “In many ways, the sev­en­tyyear-old US-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship, with its many ups and downs, al­ter­nately filled with both tantrums and ful­some praise for each other, has be­come a tragi­com­edy on a re­gional po­lit­i­cal stage, with nu­mer­ous bad ac­tors and con­fused he­roes and hero­ines.”

Although the au­thor has dealt with this trou­bled re­la­tion­ship in a pre­vi­ous book (Crossed Swords), times are rapidly chang­ing which calls for a fol­low up. Global equa­tions are chang­ing and the United States, once hos­tile to In­dia, has be­come a friend and Amer­i­cans in gen­eral have be­come less tol­er­ant of Pak­istan’s Is­lamists, es­pe­cially af­ter Osama bin Laden was found hid­ing in its back­yard.

The au­thor be­lieves that Washington can­not ab­solve it­self of blame for the soured re­la­tion­ship: “Dur­ing the pe­riod 20082018, the US chose to con­tinue to deal with the pow­er­ful Pak­istani mil­i­tary as its pre­ferred and main in­ter­locu­tor, de­spite the emer­gence of a fledg­ling democ­racy in Pak­istan… Amer­ica failed Pak­istan by re­ly­ing too much on its mil­i­tary part­ners in Pak­istan and mol­ly­cod­dling the cor­rupt civil­ian lead­er­ship. It also failed the Pak­istani peo­ple by ig­nor­ing them in the main…”

“The ar­rival of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in 2017 brought with it a new mus­cu­lar US for­eign pol­icy and a short­sighted view of re­gional re­la­tion­ships. Hence, the US risks los­ing not just the war in Afghanista­n and peace in South Asia, but also los­ing Pak­istan as a po­ten­tial friend in sta­bil­is­ing the Mid­dle East.”

The US de­ci­sion to make Pak­istan an ally and stand by it no mat­ter what has of­ten hurt In­dia. Few in In­dia will ever for­get how in 1971 when the Pak­istan Army in East Pak­istan was butcher­ing Ben­galis by the thou­sands, Washington in­stead of ad­mon­ish­ing or curb­ing the Pak­istani war ma­chine threat­ened In­dia by send­ing the US Sev­enth Fleet into the Bay of Ben­gal.

Sub­se­quently, the US de­ci­sion to ig­nore Pak­istan’s nu­clear weapons pro­gramme in or­der to en­sure the suc­cess of the anti-Soviet Afghan ji­had turned out to be a huge strate­gic set­back for In­dia and an en­dur­ing threat for the en­tire re­gion.

Many would there­fore con­test the au­thor’s view that Washington is not mind­ful or fully ap­pre­cia­tive of “Pak­istan’s ex­is­ten­tial strug­gle”. For, it could be ar­gued that much of Pak­istan’s fun­da­men­tal prob­lems arise from the fact that it chose to make In­dia its en­emy right from the time of its cre­ation. The be­lief that Hindu In­dia is an “ex­is­ten­tial threat” to Pak­istan is of its own mak­ing and no out­sider can do any­thing about it.

All this is one rea­son why In­dian strate­gic ex­perts might find fault with many of the au­thor’s as­ser­tions and ex­pla­na­tions. But that is not what the book is about and nor does that ul­ti­mately re­veal its worth.

The great­est strength of the book is the au­thor’s mind­set. Nawaz is no Is­lamist zealot or a Pak­istani Army lackey; nor is he a Pak­istan-baiter. De­spite leav­ing Pak­istan and mi­grat­ing to the United States where he has taken up cit­i­zen­ship, Nawaz is known to have main­tained good re­la­tions with the pow­ers in his home coun­try. He re­mains proud of his Ra­jput ances­try which nat­u­rally places him on the side of Pak­istan’s mar­tial classes.

At the same time, he con­tin­ues to be a critic of his coun­try’s mil­i­tary, es­pe­cially its propen­sity to dwarf and ma­nip­u­late gen­uine demo­cratic forces. In his pre­vi­ous, much ac­claimed book ti­tled Crossed Swords: Pak­istan, its Army and the Wars Within (2008), the au­thor dis­pas­sion­ately traced the Pak­istan Army’s tra­di­tion of in­ter­fer­ing and of­ten sab­o­tag­ing civil­ian gov­ern­ments.

Yet the au­thor is not com­pletely hos­tile to the Pak­istan Army and this al­lows him to an­a­lyse with­out prej­u­dice many of its im­por­tant ac­tions and ex­plain much of its mo­ti­va­tion. As in his pre­vi­ous book, Shuja Nawaz pro­vides the reader an in­valu­able glimpse be­hind the steel cur­tain that the Pak­istan Army shrouds it­self in. That in it­self is rea­son enough for Pak­istan watch­ers to treat this book as a must read.

The writer is an in­de­pen­dent com­men­ta­tor on po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity is­sues

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