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Saturday December 04, 2021

Changing priorities

October 16, 2021

It is quite clear that America’s priorities have changed in the South Asian region. The Pak-US alliance, which started from airbases near Peshawar and went all the way to SEATO, CENTO agreements, is past history now.

Pakistan, which was once called ‘America’s most allied ally in Asia’, wanted to strengthen its security against India, and the US was in search of allies against the Soviet Union. Despite betrayals, and even sanctions, by our allies during the 1965 and 1971 wars, we continued our alliance with the US. When Russia invaded Afghanistan, our support for Mujahideen turned the invasion into a war by American weapons against the Soviet Union. Later, Pakistan remained an ally of the US despite the latter’s sudden departure without any post-war cleanup.

The post-9/11 terrorism, when former president George W Bush decided to invade Afghanistan, Pakistan was the front state ally of the US – and remained one during the 20 years of war. Serious incidents like the Salala check post attack, the Raymond Davis case, and other similar cases did not alter the US-Pakistan alliance. I once asked Bush about the Pak-US alliance and its aftermath. he assured that ‘it will not be a short dance this time’. The then president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf and his aide Rashid Qureshi were quite happy to hear it. They ignored the fact that big powers have their own definition of alliance, which can be modified at will.

Now, soon after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the superpower has once again changed its priorities and switched to the India-US partnership based on a set of agreements and cooperation in defence production, intelligence sharing and others. These agreements were completed during the previous Republican and Democratic administrations. The Pakistani leadership did not raise any concern over its national security with the US – Pakistan’s ally in Afghanistan.

When our foreign minister visited New York for the recently held UNGA session and bilateral talks, a meeting was finalised only two hours before it took place. This meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinkin and Pakistan FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi lasted for about 55 minutes. It was the most important meeting of the FM’s trip. His press briefing regarded it a useful meeting ranging from a dossier against India on Kashmir to Afghanistan and Pak-US relations. But I failed to find any substance.

A high-level US delegation led by Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of the US state, recently visited Delhi and Islamabad. Her categorical statements are clearly indicative of America’s changed policy. Prior to her departure to Islamabad, she told an Indian gathering that she was going to Pakistan for a “specific and narrow purpose” of talks on Afghanistan and to make sure that they have the capabilities to ensure everybody’s security – including that of the US and India.

Wendy Sherman made it more categorical by saying that “we do not see ourselves building a broad relationship with Pakistan. And we have no interest in returning to the days of a hyphenated India, Pakistan. That is not where we are going to be”. During her visit to Islamabad, Wendy Sherman did not modify or soften her statement as courtesy to her hosts.

The other day our ambassador to the US was in New York at the Pak-American Doctors Association (APPNA) dinner. He was part of the Pakistani team that met US Secretary Tony Blinkin. Responding to my question, he agreed that Pakistan wants broad-based relations with the US, but the relationship between the two countries will not possibly be the same again.

Now India is the ‘most allied ally’ of the US, in Asia – as was Pakistan in 1954. America has made its choices in the region. Is Pakistan ready to face the forthcoming challenges?

The writer is a journalist based in the US.