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November 8, 2018
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Irritants in Pak-US relations

Islamabad

November 8, 2018

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Pakistan-United States relations refer to the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States. On 20 October 1947, two months and six days after Pakistan's independence, the United States established relations with Pakistan, making it amongst the first nations to establish relations with the new state. Pakistan allied itself with the US during the Cold War era against the Soviet Union, and was an integral player in the CENTO and SEATO organizations. However, relations began to sour as both sides began to criticize each other's strategy in the War on Terror, with the United States government frequently accusing Pakistan of harboring terrorists of Taliban and Haqqani network while Pakistan alleged that the United States had done little to control security in eastern Afghanistan, where Pakistan's most-wanted terrorist Mullah Fazlullah was believed to be hiding. Subsequently, the Raymond Davis incident in Lahore, the secret US operation in Abbottabad resulting in the death of Osama bin Laden, followed by the Salala incident, limiting role of Pakistan in reconstruction process of Afghanistan after the drawdown and giving a bigger piece of pie to India are a few significant milestones in Pak-US relations that took the strained relations to new heights of mistrust.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration eagerly concluded strategic bilateral pacts with India to include Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, designated India as 'major defence partner’ to facilitate defence technology, combat exercises and wargames, joint projects were designed to include aircraft carrier technologies and jet engines, futuristic helicopters, infantry combat vehicles, F-16/ F-18 fighter production line and billions of dollars arms deals including C-17 Globemaster, Poseidon-8, C-130 Super Hercules, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters while denying the same to Pakistan which has created a state of strategic imbalance in the nuclear South Asian region. Since then, the major irritant -- mistrust -- between Pakistan and the US continues to hound the ties even under the Trumpian era.

For now, the Donald Trump syndrome has created an entirely new situation by openly declaring Islam and Muslims as enemies while banning entry of citizens of seven Islamic countries in the US. Amid this hatred and discrimination, Pakistan is no different. In an interview, President Trump did not mince his words by declaring nuclear Pakistan as the most dangerous country next to Iran and was openly planning to counter Pakistan by strengthening India by equipping its already strong conventional forces.

To put further pressure, the US administration has ceased military training for defense personnel and the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for Pakistan, resorted to the use of diplomatically harsh language and exercised its influence in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Meanwhile, the joint congressional bill urged the Trump administration to strengthen and enhance its major defence partnership with India, emphasizing that such a partnership should enable strategic, operational and tactical coordination between the two strategic partners. Pakistan has also been removed from programs at the US Naval War College, Naval Staff College and courses including cyber security studies.

The rift was further widened by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement to warn the International Monetary Fund (IMF) saying the Trump administration will not allow it to lend US dollars to Pakistan for repaying China. The statement is seen as Washington’s apparent response to Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which includes the $62 billion CPEC package for rebuilding Pakistan’s decaying infrastructure and reviving its economy. Anyhow, considering the prevailing environment and taking history as a guide, one does not have to be a strategist or political analyst to predict the future of Pak-US relations.

The US disregard of Pakistan’s sensitivities, its legitimate security interests and suspicion due to divergent approaches and interests in the region has come as a major blow to the trust-building measures. Pakistan, being the US frontline ally in the war on terror, suffered a lot both in terms of men and material. As against the 33 billion dollars, the country’s material damages have gone over 120 billion dollars. During this period, the country saw one of the huge mass displacements in its 70 years long political history due to the militancy and subsequent military operations. At a time when the US government is directly reaching out to the Afghan based Taliban in an effort to seek a negotiated settlement to the 17 years long war and have a graceful exit, annoying an important ally really makes no good sense.

Terrorism is a common enemy and to defeat our common enemy all the stakeholders and regional actors including the US need to launch coordinated efforts for restoration of peace and stability in the region. The United States demanding everything from Pakistan without giving anything in return is too much to ask for. There is a changed situation now and Pakistan would like to pursue its own national interests through an independent foreign policy. Pakistan is more than willing to cooperate with the US but on equal grounds. A balanced approach by the United States without biases will act as catalyst towards regionalism of South Asia and revival of its relationship with Pakistan. The policies of discrimination and alienation from the US side will only further sabotage the peace efforts. Thus, all the powers need to move diplomatically to streamline the regional apparatus for peace, security, progress and development.

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