Slipping Pak-US ties

Updated 11 Jun 2016

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The rumbles of discontent in the Pak-US relationship are growing once again.

Following the collapse of the Afghan peace talks and the final-year administration of US President Barack Obama determinedly pushing ahead with the deepening of US-India ties, Pakistani policymakers appear to believe that regional developments bode ill for this country’s security interests.

Certainly, the Pak-US relationship has been characterised by a contradiction in recent years: while both countries’ leaderships have insisted that the relationship is of allies and even strategic in nature, it has been obvious that bilateral ties are essentially transactional in nature.

Read: No intention to diminish relations with Pakistan: US

Now the terms of the transaction appear to be changing, precipitated perhaps by the US that Pakistan is unable to deliver the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

With the US firmly in the election cycle, it is unlikely that any major policy change will be considered.

At best, the two US officials making the rounds of Islamabad and, likely, Rawalpindi will be able to balance Pakistani discontent with US disillusionment.

The wider problem will remain, however: how to redefine the Pak-US relationship in a way that is realistic and honest?

There is a tendency inside Pakistani policymaking circles to see more threats than opportunities and to view foreign policy as a zero-sum game with India.

Yet, the very countries that Pakistan is most interested in or concerned by demonstrate a significantly different approach. Competition between the US and China is allegedly driving Great Power realignments, but the US and China remain vital trading partners.

Trade is also a significant aspect of India-China ties, even as India and the US pull closer to counter Chinese influence.

And India is engaging Iran and Saudi Arabia simultaneously, something Pakistan seems unwilling to do. To be sure, Pakistan does have legitimate security concerns, and many of those centre on India’s growing military strength.

But a narrow vision of security dominating all other aspects of national power may only leave Pakistan more vulnerable in the regional and international arenas.

Pakistan needs to contribute more positively to the regional order — projects like CPEC and a tentative outreach to Central Asia need to be emphasised in all geographical directions.

It is here where perhaps Pakistan itself, notwithstanding US policy errors, has failed: there is little mention now of trade, investment, remittances or significant cooperation with the US outside the security arena.

Examine: Love US, hate US

With policymakers here apparently not averse to letting bilateral ties be defined almost entirely in security and military terms, the US appears increasingly willing to transfer blame when there are failures on to Pakistan.

Be it the Afghan Taliban or anti-India militants, the US is discarding nuances in its policy approach. A new leader in the White House may well reverse the slide, but Pakistan should not expect that to necessarily occur.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2016