MID-June was a particularly fraught period for that strange relationship that prevails between the mighty US, which remains the world’s foremost superpower, and the dysfunctional chaos that is the Republic of Pakistan.
Accusations and perceptions were rife, both here and there, in statements made by the movers and shakers of both sides and in the media. They continue, but in somewhat abated form (for how long?). David Ignatius writing in the Washington Post on June 16 opened: “It’s always painful to watch a love affair go sour, as the unrealistic expectations and secret betrayals come crashing down in a chorus of recrimination. That’s what’s happening now between the United States and Pakistan, and it has a soap-operatic quality, in Washington and Islamabad alike. ‘How could they treat us so badly?’ is the tone of political debate in both capitals.”
Well, the relationship can hardly be described as “a love affair”. Pakistan, from 1947 onward, has been the supplicant and the US, always of course, in its own national interest and taking into account geography, has been the provider. Such relationships can never be healthy. The supplicant suffers from an inferiority complex which it unsuccessfully attempts to disguise, whilst the provider actually does have every right to demand ‘do more’. Realism has to come into the equation somewhere.
Ignatius is hopeful. He sees a “cooling-off period” with a different relationship emerging — this is difficult to visualise if Pakistan continues on its old tack, though noises are now being made about an intended change (but they may just be temporary noises to distract). The “old embrace” has indeed become “suffocating with the Pakistan military looking to its public like a lackey of the United States”.
Jane Perlez of the New York Times, writing from Islamabad on June 15, imparted news about the “seething anger” rife in all ranks of the Pakistan Army, hinting the army chief may well be “pushed out.”
Now, since neither Kayani nor his brother-in-arms ISI chief Shuja Pasha have seen fit to resign, it would seem that the NYT is indulging in a little bit of kite-flying. After all, it has been predicting the fall from grace of Asif Zardari and his disastrous government for almost three years — it has not happened nor is it likely to, for as far as the US is concerned Zardari really could not ‘do more’ than he has done and continues to do. So, with the US-gifted three- year extension that Kayani has (whether wrong or right matters not a whit) the US, it would seem, is unlikely to change horses in midstream — which is where it now is.
Pakistan’s man in Washington has had a rocky time attempting a damage control exercise but his problem is that he gets little help from home. He has tried to calm the media and Congress nerves but it’s all uphill. How can we expect the US media, Congress and the US taxpayer at large to be sympathetic when Pakistanis in general do little but rant against the US and its perceived perfidy? Do we expect them to condone insane behaviour?
It is time the streets, parliament and the establishment were toned down and were factually told what is what when it comes to dealing with the US. Burning flags will not conquer America — it simply wastes cloth, kerosene and matches and serves to inflame tempers. The US remains unaffected. ‘Ghairat’ is a lost cause and does immeasurable harm. The real lesson to be learnt from the OBL raid — that is if we wish to learn — is that the US can find its enemies, no matter how long it takes, and with impunity eliminate them.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in a Defence Department briefing on June 16 made eminently sensible noises which should be emulated by our lot over here.
Gates admitted to ebbs and flows and stressed the point that both sides have to work on the ‘relationship’, complicated as it may be (neither side seems to have worked out which needs the other more at this particular point in time). Communications between the two governments need to be as open and as honest as is possible — though naturally there are innumerable restraints to honesty.
Mullen stressed the strong ‘relationship’ he has had with the Pakistan Army and was full of praise for Kayani, carefully avoiding any hint as to his staying powers. “What the Pakistani military’s going through right now, obviously is considerable introspection based on recent events” is how he tactfully put it.
The region, as Gates said, is not going to go away. The US can, of course, get out and get away, but that is highly unlikely to happen in view of its strategic needs and its ‘national interest’. Pakistan is where it is and will be so for as long as it can exist.