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A working transaction

Published Oct 18, 2015 06:39am


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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

THE ally from hell. The desi mother-in-law. They’re our enemy. No, we’re their enemy. It’s that time again — Pak-US is in the news.

Trouble is, the relationship is so old, the lines so rehearsed that it’s easy to forget what’s really going on.

The standard line is that both sides are lying to each other, and at least one side is lying to itself. But they’re not.

The real problem is on the Pakistani side. Because it is a security relationship and it is a relationship with the world’s greatest power, there are domestic consequences.

Hawks in America argue we — the army, really — are duplicitous and experts at milking naive American politicians.

As of Sept 30, the US has transferred $31.3 billion in all types of aid, military and civilian, to Pakistan since 2002. That’s a little more than $2bn a year.

It is supposedly a great con. Dumb Americans gett­ing their pockets picked by a crafty Third World junta.

But what, really, has the US paid Pakistan for? Basically, since 9/11 and the US-led war in Afghanistan that began in Oct 2001, the Americans have engaged with us for three reasons.

One, to help them wage war in Afghanistan. Two, to help wage war on Al Qaeda in the Af-Pak arena. Three, to keep terrorists away from our nuclear weapons.

On all three counts, we have apparently screwed the Americans. The Taliban are our allies. OBL was our guest. And we’ve gone and built so many nukes, big and small, that it’s a bigger headache than ever.

Ergo, Pakistan is the ally from hell.

But what the hawks in America won’t tell you is that the Americans have pretty much been getting what they’ve been paying for. And it’s been bought on the cheap.

Here’s how. One, it bought them a chance to wage war against the Taliban and see if they could win. That’s it — a shot at winning and no more.

Think of it this way — the Taliban are Pakistan’s greatest ally in a messed-up country on our border and we helped the Americans wage war on them.

That war has cost the Americans roughly a trillion dollars. The residual force that is to stay on will cost them about $20bn a year.

But for $2bn a year, we gave them a shot at creating an alternative future for Afghanistan. An alternative future with uncertain consequences for how the military here defines our national security priorities.

Frankly, it’s our boys who cut a bad deal for themselves.

Two, we cleared the way for the Americans to go after Al Qaeda here. And have they. They’ve droned the heck out of Fata and killed more Al Qaeda No 3s than anyone can remember.

The CIA probably hasn’t even counted the number of AQ rank and filers taken out over here since 9/11, unilaterally and in concert.

Ah, but there’s that business of Osama, you’re thinking. Sure, we had him. But once they found him, we also watched them walk in, take him out and walk out again — and soon enough went back to doing business with them.

Osama remains Obama’s greatest foreign policy/national security success. It helped ease him to re-election.

Meanwhile, our best insurance policy against getting invaded if another 9/11 happened was gone. When they found him, we moved on.

Two billion a year is chump change — not money from chumps.

Three, the boys love their nukes more than life itself. It is their one ticket to permanent relevance. It is also a genuinely scary story — it’s just not a good idea to hug both nukes and militants close.

That alone merits a two-billion-dollar-a-year transactional relationship between the US and Pakistan — the Americans need access to Pakistan if they’re to prevent their worst nightmare from coming true.

And do they get access. Maybe not to the nukes themselves, but definitely to the programme’s managers — and to the military at large.

Those intimate conversations help shape a sophisticated American understanding of our nuclear prog­ra­mme and, possibly, how to shape its future direction.

Put all of that together and America gets what it pays Pakistan for — no more and no less.

The real problem is on the Pakistani side. Because it is a security relationship and it is a relationship with the world’s greatest power, there are domestic consequences.

How much of the American eagerness to work with Pakistan and the boys’ alacrity for working with the Americans affects the trajectory of democracy in Pakistan?

Just asking the question puts you in the camp of loons and ideologues. But it is real enough.

The way the US has defined its interests means what it basically needs from Pakistan are security things. And that shapes who is relevant here and who is not.

Since 9/11, there’s nothing the US has asked of Pakistan that makes civilians relevant. When you’re incidental to the biggest foreign policy and national security demands from the biggest player in the world, that distorts what happens at home.

Which is a pity. No mainstream civilian wants to dominate Afghanistan. None consider militants to be a tool of statecraft or a fundamental ally. None advocate more and more nukes.

Whether it’s Afghanistan, militancy or nuclear weapons, most civilians do not have the same approach as the army’s. That’s why the army needs to dominate them.

And the US has judged that it needs the army.

The dirty little secret of the Pak-US relationship is that it works — for the US and the boys, anyway.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2015

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Comments (33) Closed

Vakil Oct 18, 2015 07:28am

Amazing ... incisive analysis! How does Cyril manage it I often wonder. That last bit pretty much summarized it all - would go so far as to say it defines the relationship since 1947 (or thereabouts) ..!! If Cyril sir with his kind of brains had been working for some American think-tank etc he would've made many millions by now... seriously.

tariq Oct 18, 2015 09:25am

Great piece again Cyril. Or should I say there you go again. you can write all you want but it nothing will change. Boys will be boys.

Shiraz Oct 18, 2015 09:29am

That's the reason every elected government gets demonised by media and opposition parties ( on some one's instructions) and then so called vacuumed created and then a Messiah ( from the boys or their dear one from politicians ) comes to fill that gap, and life goes on.

Nadeem Oct 18, 2015 09:37am

Those billions of dollars from Uncle Sam don't come in to improve the civilians' standard of living. They come in to what really amounts to a 'private account' of the military, to keep a very private relationship going between two parties (US the country, and Pak Army the institution). This relationship is not between two nations, but between a nation and a million persons in a country with a population of 180 million. This private relationship - which is actually thriving - ensures that Pakistan is neither independent nor 'normal'.

auginpk Oct 18, 2015 09:49am

US - Pak relations are more like a cyclic continuity of relation rather than a linear of exponential continuity of relation.

So most likely this will go on like this.

Feroz Oct 18, 2015 09:57am

It will work till it stops working, which is not very far off.

S Kazmi Oct 18, 2015 10:51am

You're a Champ Cyril. Excellent & bold!!!

observer Oct 18, 2015 11:17am

Cheap or Expensive can be debated till Kingdom Come.

The Duplicity is beyond any debate.

Yasir Oct 18, 2015 11:19am

You are one brave writer!

Parvez Oct 18, 2015 12:40pm

One has to be rad that carefully and right to the end.....where you nailed it.

observer Oct 18, 2015 01:06pm

A. The 'Third Umpire' needed some kind of leverage against the duly elected civilians.

B. The Revolutionaries, One Canadian and another local, came in handy.

C. The Third Umpire got what it wanted-the Judicial Power to hang and a free run in Karachi, included.

D. The 'Revolutionaries' became the 'Expendables'.

End of analysis.

Axis Oct 18, 2015 02:35pm

CYRIL ALMEIDA is slowly becoming my favourite writer due to his honesty and excellent writing style. But this article disappoints.

Cyrus Oct 18, 2015 02:51pm

@Nadeem ... The people cannot be told the decisions made at the highest levels of government. That would paralyze the government. The Pakistan military makes the deals irrespective of the civilian government. That does not mean the military is taking over. A majority of people in Pakistan don't trust Nawaz Sharif or Zardari - and neither does Washington for the same reason. Atomic weapons have to be kept out of the hands of Pakistan's politicians.

fida Oct 18, 2015 03:52pm

The writer has got it all wrong when he suggest that US is a world’s greatest power. With pot holes in there roads, broken infra-structure, 17 trillion in debt, trillion dollars in treasury notes under China control, the falling dollar and the newest rise in gold prices and total failure of its foreign policy in the world, USA has now become a once upon a time a super power. Today they are challenged by the resurgent China.

fida Oct 18, 2015 03:55pm

@Nadeem You are so right.

Harmony-1 Oct 18, 2015 04:58pm

Israel gets $3bn a year and that is just aid. Pakistan's $2bn a year is reimbursement of expenditure for fighting a war for America and no one can compensate lost life.

neeraj nigam Oct 18, 2015 05:38pm

Pakistan must ponder what it gained and lost after it allied with USA i think it lost more than it gained. Every developed country tries to exploit undeveloped and developing countries more so if they are not democracies be it USA or China for that matter.

Ali Oct 18, 2015 06:28pm

Interests of Pakistan's military and the State of Pakistan are common. The military belongs to Pakistan; very national and patriotic in essence. Wonder the efforts of the author to portray and create a divergence - military is part and parcel of our national power and not an entity in isolation. Please stop creating such perceptions to please the others.

Nasir raza Oct 18, 2015 06:36pm

A cynical view...Pakistan's credibility in the eyes of the world as a progressive nation is totally shot with machinations of the boys! Our country's use of Taliban has destroyed the fabric of the nation. Yet you seem content and sanguine by making these cynical points...Cyril I love you man...but this cynicism without any passion for what is right for all of us is actually quite disgusting and depressing

Arslan Oct 18, 2015 07:06pm

Naivete is not a substitute for goodness. It does not help to demonize the "boys" and ignore realpolitik. There have been enough mistakes made by the Pakistani leadership, but it is fashionable to sit in armchairs and criticize without providing solutions to essentially what are complex problems.

jeff Oct 18, 2015 07:09pm

A nice piece satiric writing but no new substance in it. And the basic argument of the topic is not true. one, USA does not need us, we need USA. two, our country is poor because of wrong planning, corruption, religious fanaticism and hate to India. three, huge armed forces and weapons budget. That´s why we are failed to develop the real democracy in Pakistan.

Nadeh Alee Oct 18, 2015 07:53pm

Amazing... The way he summarized everything in three points. Great

Amir Dewani Oct 18, 2015 08:06pm

Excuse me, the situation is not the same always, and there is no need to throw the garbage at the doors of any one else. America has never threatened or tried to subdue your country. Rather the shallow leaders of this country have failed to visualize and to safeguard interests of the country. Strength of a leader is more vocal when it is built on trust of the people. And hope is not owned by any one, nor does it sell in the mall. 'If of the mortal goods thou art bereft,and from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left, sell one, and with the dole; Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul'- Mosleh Eddin Saadi- from 'Gulistan. So, it is not working transaction. It is strength of character that counts.

Muhammad Abbas Oct 18, 2015 08:08pm


Dr.D Prithipaul Oct 18, 2015 09:14pm

Cyril Āmeida leaves out the religious factor in his examination of the civilian relevance and that of the army.

Guest65 Oct 18, 2015 09:45pm

You hit the nail with pin Point accuracy ( in shooting terms , its called the bull's eye. USA got and getw what they wanted and want , " The Friends Not " quite obediently provide and savor self inflicted importance with plenty of green packs coming and keep coming.

Mahesg Oct 18, 2015 10:05pm

Very realistic take by Cyril, as before. While last line may summarize the choice US made, I wonder if they had any other option. Did US make civilian leadership irrelevant ? Civilian leaders never had a good shot at dominance throughout the country's history. That won't change for ever, even if India and Pak make peace.

sunilsm Oct 18, 2015 10:46pm

Hi Cyril, good to hear to again after few weeks.

Gp65 Oct 18, 2015 10:51pm

Great article. I am not sure about this sentence though: "The way the US has defined its interests means what it basically needs from Pakistan are security things. And that shapes who is relevant here and who is not." You seem to have forgotten the Kerry Lugar bill.

Mahesg Oct 19, 2015 03:55am

The point I was trying make about weak civilian leadership based on simple question - if you take India out of equation just for a second, is there any other key area of Pakistan politics where Civilian leaders have a say over the Army? Be it dealing with Afghanistan, Middle East, Central Asia, USA, China or even Russia.. list can go on. Right or wrong, that's what country chose. The rest of the world is just playing along.

Saif Oct 19, 2015 05:53am

@Nasir raza: I would say "Cyrilical" view rather than cynical view!

Ahsan Ali Oct 20, 2015 09:54am

I would term it bleak

Sudhir Neyalasinger Oct 20, 2015 11:17am

@fida It's still the world's greatest military power. Go do a comparison with China on globalfirepower website.