WE’VE been here before: the US imposes sanctions; we work ourselves into a lather; national sovereignty is invoked; and the media goes ballistic.
Then, miraculously, comes yet another regional crisis, and we are friends again. Or, to put it in George W. Bush’s words describing his post-9/11 relationship with Musharraf: “We are best buddies.” These ups and downs have characterised our links with the world’s most powerful state virtually since Pakistan’s creation, and little has changed in the last 70 years.
What has changed, however, is that Pakistan no longer has many friends on Capitol Hill or in the White House. There was a time when a Republican government meant that Islamabad’s voice was heard in the American corridors of power. One reason is that, as Sherry Rehman, our knowledgeable ex-ambassador to Washington, put it, we no longer have a dedicated lobbyist serving our cause in the American capital.
Aid is not bestowed out of benevolence.
But there’s much more than that. Steadily, the friendship between India and the US has become closer, just as India has wooed Afghanistan assiduously. India is seen by most Americans as a tolerant, progressive country free from the militancy that has plagued Pakistan for decades. Never mind that Modi’s BJP government has done its worst to erode India’s secular character. Above all, it is a large market for US arms, machinery and services.
Time and again, top American leaders have accused the Pakistani military establishment of “not doing enough” despite thousands of our security personnel being killed in the fight against Islamist militancy. But never before has an American president so openly used threats and policy directives to express disapproval.
There are many super-patriots who deny the Americans have any cause for complaint. However, if, as we keep repeating, we are on the same page as our US allies in the fight against Islamic militancy, why — as alleged in some news reports — haven’t we allowed them access to the Haqqani network terrorist captured by our security forces when they freed the kidnapped US-Canadian couple a few months ago?
Or, for that matter, why haven’t we succeeded in concluding the trial of those accused of the 2008 Mumbai attacks? And why is Hafiz Saeed still walking free? We forget that when Musharraf was targeted in two assassination attempts, the perpetrators were fast-tracked to the gallows in double quick time.
So like it or not, there is an American narrative that resonates deeply in Congress, the presidency and the media. Of course we have our own version, just as we have our own red lines and security concerns. How to make these two overlap is the conundrum that has soured relations between Washington and Islamabad for years.
For our part, we have much to blame the Americans for. The bloody incident at Salala when over two dozen of our soldiers were killed is one. The Raymond Davis kerfuffle — in which the CIA contractor was spirited away after paying blood money for the men he had killed — is another.
Going further back, there is still a lingering bitterness over the arms embargos imposed during the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. Then there was the 1990 aid cut-off as a result of the Pressler Amendment that prohibited assistance to countries engaged in nuclear arms development. Finally, the 1998 nuclear tests triggered an immediate blockage of whatever remaining aid that had been committed.
So there is much for the Pakistani establishment and intelligentsia to grouse about. But we forget that aid is not some manna from heaven bestowed out of benevolence. Taxpayer dollars are generally sanctioned in pursuit of a policy agenda, and in the US, must be released within the ambit of the law and democratic procedures. Then, of course, Trump is sticking to his campaign promise to his core supporters.
Another issue that we have consistently ducked relates to the constant rise of militancy, and the negative picture it paints of a country in constant turmoil. Recently, an editorial in Dawn mentioned this failure while addressing our inability to bring accused jihadi leaders and organisations to account.
We can say this is our business until we are blue in the face. But the fact is that friends from Washington to Beijing are concerned about our dismal failure to implement rational anti-extremist policies like the ones contained in our unrealised National Action Plan. Take a bow, Nawaz Sharif.
Apart from hoping that saner voices than Trump’s prevail in Washington, we would do well not to take cheap shots for her Indian origin at Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN. She is a senior member of the US administration, and a well-known politician in her own right. For the head of the ISPR to be so unaware of the dynamics of internal American politics is alarming.
Above all, we need to remember that there are always two sides to every conflict.
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2018