It has been one of the most difficult tasks for almost all successive governments in Pakistan to effectively manage relations with the US. Even though Pakistan has helped the US achieve its overriding security and economic objectives in South Asia since the 1950s, Washington has unfairly blamed Islamabad for propping up the Afghan Taliban to perpetuate the festering Afghan insurgency.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has recently told Congress that American diplomats are being treated badly in Islamabad. Pakistan’s Foreign Office has, however, termed these allegations as unfounded. It has also shown its reservations about the undue restrictions placed on the movement of its diplomats in Washington. The ongoing climate of distrust and blame game between the two cold war partners suggests that the fraught Pak-US relations will further deteriorate to the lowest ebb owing to the aggressive attitude adopted by the Trump administration towards Pakistan’s alleged flirtation with the Afghan Taliban.
The Pak-US relations have been on a slippery slope since Trump accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban even though it has received $33 billion in aid. When Pakistan refused to accept the US policy dictations against the Taliban, the Trump administration suspended economic aid to Pakistan and placed it on the FATF ‘grey list’ with the diplomatic support of some of its Western allies.
As Pakistan seems to have decided not to fall in line with the US South Asia strategy, the Trump administration will probably adopt more punitive measures to punish Islamabad economically and stymie it alignment with Russia and China in the region. At this critical juncture, the leadership in Islamabad should consult all foreign policy experts, relevant think tanks and seasoned academics of international relations to ensure that the country is safeguarded from the wrath of the wounded superpower.
Some feel that US diplomats in Islamabad have started flagrantly disregarding Pakistan’s domestic laws. It seems that these diplomats think they should have carte blanche to run over ordinary Pakistani citizens with their cars because Pakistan is financially dependent on them. Colonel Joseph Emanuel Hall, the US military attaché in Islamabad, jumped a traffic light in the capital city, killing a Pakistani citizen and injuring another. On January 27, 2011, Raymond Davis had killed two men in Lahore. Although diplomats cannot be arrested and punished for civil and criminal acts under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it doesn’t mean that envoys can willfully violate the law of the receiving state – as US diplomats have done in Pakistan.
The lingering Afghan insurgency is the major irritant straining Pak-US relations. Being a world power with practical experience of conflicts all over the world, the US is fully alive to the fact that it cannot militarily crush over the Afghan Taliban on account of Afghanistan’s treacherous landscape and all-out regional support to the Taliban, and the stiff resistance of the Pakhtuns. So, the US has continued to heap blame on Pakistan in order to hide its abject failure in terms of mopping up the Taliban and reconstructing a war-torn Afghanistan.
Despite the America’s bullying and unfriendly attitude towards Pakistan, the latter sorely needs the support of the former to accelerate its economic growth and safeguard its territory from the spectre of terrorism and insurgency. Islamabad is aware that the US has the power and wherewithal to cripple a country economically and destabilise it on the security front. If Pakistan snubs the US and completely tilts toward China and Russia, the US will presumably resort to openly supporting Balochistan’s low-level insurgency, terrorism in the tribal areas, and sanctioning Pakistan on the clumsy grounds of abetting terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
Since the 1950s, Pakistan has lacked efficient and pragmatic foreign policymakers. The country’s deeply flawed policy of aligning with the US during the cold war against the former Soviet Union deprived the country of the USSR’s technological, diplomatic, economic and military assistance. Islamabad’s alignment with Washington against the threat of communism and its hostile relations with India made the country a security state. Pakistan was militarily dependent on the US. This emboldened Washington to pile up sanctions on Islamabad under the Symington, Solar, Glenn and Pressler amendments in order to inhibit Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
Our successive governments have dismally failed to benefit from the integration of the world economy since the 1980s. The country should grasp the interconnectedness of the global economy by cultivating robust trade and military ties with Russia, China, East Asian and OECD countries. The diversification of external relations would compel the US to respect and value its relations with Pakistan. This would also bar the US from dictating and pressurising Pakistan, as such a bullying behaviour would further push Pakistan towards Russia and China.
It is time to realise that without economic self-sufficiency, the country can never be able to independently formulate and execute its foreign policy. The Trump administration has made Pakistan a laughing stock worldwide by accusing Islamabad of only lying and deceiving Washington, despite receiving billions of dollars in economic and military aid.
Has our leadership ever considered why the US gives special importance to India in the region? India’s huge consumer market, potentially expanding defence sector and economic self-reliance have attracted the US to make India its strategic partner, supporting the Indian bid to join the NSG and make India the regional hegemon.
Our economic dependence on Saudi Arabia, China and the US has deprived the country of an independent and proactive foreign policy. At present, the US doesn’t respect our territorial sovereignty, national interest and status as a nuclear power. This is mainly on account of our heavy economic reliance on the US.
The government must broaden taxation, industrialise the country, eradicate massive corruption, and make Pakistan a regional trade hub. The US would never try to browbeat and dictate an economically strong Pakistan. Our strong economic position will also goad the US into supporting our bid to join the NSG.
The country’s leadership has also failed to understand the value of the global public opinion. Though it is imperative to win wars on the battlefield, it is equally important to dominate and influence public opinions across the world – especially in the West. On account of its adroit diplomacy and sound education system, India has defeated Pakistan on US talk shows and think tanks. Due to such Indian diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, the Trump administration is reluctant to accept Pakistan’s battlefield successes and sacrifices against terrorist and militant groups in the tribal areas.
In addition to political and military diplomacy, the country should promote public diplomacy in order to effectively project Pakistan’s positive image in Western capitals. Such an initiative requires greater interaction at the civil society level. What is needed is that Pakistan’s intellectuals, academic circles, experienced media personalities and diaspora need to be more active in their interaction with US think tanks such as the Brookings, Carnegie and Hudson institutes as these institutions play a significant role in shaping US domestic and foreign policies.
Pakistan should take stock of the evolving multi-polar world and the shifting regional alignments in Asia. Apart from establishing working relations with China, Russia and various East Asian and European countries, Islamabad should seek ways to cooperate with Washington in convergent areas and dexterously manage tensions where the interests of both countries diverge.
The writer is an independent researcher.