The American interests in FATA

September 14, 2014

Pakistan-US relationship is an unequal partnership owing to the unequal power positions occupied by the two unmatched partners

The American interests in FATA

Historically, the US has pursued three foreign policy objectives. These range from security and commercial interests to the promotion of American ideals. In FATA, the US goal is security. Washington uses clandestine drone missions to target al Qaeda and the Taliban on the one hand and employs carrot and stick policy to compel Islamabad do its bidding on the other. Sadly, International politics is no citadel of morality.

The US foreign policy towards Pakistan has traditionally remained paradoxical. In the country, whenever the US interest was its security, various American administrations would turn a blind eye to pressing for democracy. Unsurprisingly, during the Cold War period when the containment of Soviet Union was the US highest priority, Uncle Sam supported military dictators in Pakistan to that end. The means employed by Washington were economic and military aid and the sale of arms. The rules of the game did not change. For its security interest the Bush administration hardly raised the question of democracy with Musharraf. The American objectives in FATA are inseparable from its foreign policy goals in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Security has remained the overriding concern.

Manifest Destiny was in high gear when the US attacked Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The Americans, unlike the rest, had a higher purpose to serve: to protect liberty and promote freedom. These cherished values were camouflaged in Operation Enduring Freedom. Launched on 7 October 2001, OEF purported to ousting Taliban regime, neutralising al Qaeda and arresting Bin Laden. In order to realise its foreign policy goals, in retrospect the US has been using a host of foreign policy instruments at its disposal. They include the threatened use of force, war and propaganda, covert operations, military aid, the sale of arms, economic sanctions, and economic assistance and public diplomacy.

Although Pakistan is at the crossroads of many American concerns, terrorism is the biggest of all. Twice the US nearly put the country to the list of "terrorism sponsoring" states.

Since 2001, Pakistan and the US forged a relationship what Stephen Cohen called as "partnership of uncertain duration." This phase of relationship is short of an alliance unlike during the Cold War period. The US objectives in FATA are concurrent and overlapping with its wider goals in Pakistan and Afghanistan at large. They are neutralising al Qaeda and all its affiliate groups and the Taliban. The latter have remained a thorn in the flesh of the US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

On its own, since 2004, the US has been using the so called covert drone missions to target both al Qaeda and the Taliban. By now, the unmanned drones have carried out a total of 361 attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. The use of pilotless vehicles came out of American desperation that Pakistan was either not doing enough or was simply incapable of aggressively hunting down al Qaeda and the Taliban. The use of ground forces was rightly thought to be counter-productive.

Pakistan has been both forced and courted to carry out military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Washington has judiciously mixed hard instruments with soft means. George W Bush’s 20 September 2001 roaring speech before a joint session of Congress still echoes in the ears of ruling elites in Islamabad. He said "every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. . . . [A]ny nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded . . . as a hostile regime."

Pakistan rationally obliged. Under pressure from Washington, Islamabad has been carrying out military operations in its north west tribal areas. In June 2002, in order to stop the arrival of relocating militants in FATA, Islamabad deployed troops into Tirah valley in Khyber agency and Parachinar in Kurram agency. Pakistan’s army carried out its first major operation against militants in South Waziristan back in March 2004. Since then military operations have remained ubiquitous throughout seven tribal agencies called FATA.

More than 100,000 military personnel are deployed across the tribal belt. More, by 2004 Pakistan had handed over to the US more than 500 operatives associated to al Qaeda. In the process, Pakistan has hugely suffered. The country’s war on al Qaeda and the Taliban has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people including no less than 6,000 personnel from law enforcement agencies. As estimates suggest, Pakistan’s economic loss now exceeds more than $70 billion.

Nevertheless, Pakistan has been in reception of American aid. Since 11 September 2001, the US had delivered a total of $25.91 billion in aid to Pakistan by the end of April 2013. Approximately, $17.22 billion were earmarked for military aid and $8.68 billion in economic assistance. The breakup of the security related aid showed that Pakistan got aid under eight different heads. Similarly, the country received the economic aid under seven different heads. More, by February 2012, Pakistan was delivered all the 18 F16s jet fleet equipped with night precision attack capability, marking the completion of $2.7 billion programme.

True to history, Pakistan-US relationship is an unequal partnership owing to the unequal power positions occupied by the two unmatched partners.

Whenever, Pak-US alliance was consummated, Washington had an overbearing role. Although Pakistan did benefit, its interests always remained subservient to that of the US.

As embodied in SEATO and CENTO, the US would not thwart any threat from Delhi -- Islamabad’s overriding concern -- but from a communist state, an American strategic interest. Even now the US does not bother much about Pakistan’s interests.

The relations between the two unhappy allies are marred by a number of irritants. The incessant issue that keeps straining the relations is Islamabad’s alleged support to Taliban. From realpolitik perspective, Islamabad’s umbilical cord link with Taliban will not be called off until the former’s concerns in Afghanistan are addressed. Washington should not take umbrage at its ally’s policy because national interests not morality inform international politics.

The American interests in FATA