KARACHI: Two eminent speakers on Thursday shed light on the current state of Pak-US relations at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA).
The first speaker was Najmuddin Sheikh, former foreign secretary of Pakistan. He started his talk by mentioning a few myths that prevailed. He said there was the myth that Pakistan and the United States had mutual interests.
It had never been the case. The ties were of a transactional nature from the beginning and the commonalities were contrived.
We did not have a common aversion to the Soviet Union. During the Afghan jihad we were genuinely concerned about the Soviet Union consolidating its position in Afghanistan, the old idea that it was looking for warm waters, but the Americans had a different idea; they said they would do to the Soviet Union what it did to them in Vietnam. The only commonality was the war against terror.
Mr Sheikh then pointed out the errors that the US committed. He said: “Why did the US allow Osama bin Laden get shifted from Sudan to Afghanistan?” He [Osama] travelled by a C130 from Sudan to Afghanistan. In Sudan he was a relatively unknown figure whereas in Afghanistan he was a hero of the Afghan jihad.
Two years later an American general sitting in the office of our chief of army staff said they were firing missiles across our air space but they were not meant for us; they were trying to hit a camp in Afghanistan where they believed Osama bin Laden was.
Mr Sheikh said the current situation was that President Trump’s New Year tweet generated a lot of speculation and he [Sheikh] thought there was a more rational explanation for it.
On Dec 29, there appeared an article in the New York Times saying that during the rescue operation of a Canadian family carried out by Pakistan (for which Trump was all praise for Pakistan) they caught a member of the Haqqani network.
The Americans asked permission to interrogate him but Pakistanis didn’t permit them. Mr Sheikh said he was sure that on Dec 30 or 31 during the presidential briefing a reference to that was made and that’s what triggered the tweet.
But later on Pakistan’s foreign secretary said that our engagement with the US would continue, and by the same token US deputy secretary Alice Wells said there would be other programmes which would continue.
‘Trump is actually a new face, not a new factor on US outlook on Pakistan’
With regard to Afghanistan, Mr Sheikh said there would not be peace and stability in the country till 2030 or 2035, therefore, Afghanistan would continue needing foreign assistance.
The second speaker of the evening was retired Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi. He said he was thinking what a great deal of difference one year made.
In the start of 2017 the first phone call that Trump made was to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif saying Pakistan was a fantastic country. Two months later there was a bill being proposed in the US Congress saying Pakistan was a state sponsor of terrorism.
Two months later Trump was in Riyadh and didn’t even mention Pakistan. Two months later they had the national security strategy paper which produced India as its strategic partner in this region, and no clear mention of Pakistan.
Two months later Pakistan was put on notice and another two months later Trump came up with the tweet. All of that was symptomatic of the nature of Pak-US ties.
“Trump is actually a new face, not a new factor on US outlook on Pakistan,” he remarked, adding that the pretense we had in diplomacy was gone.
Gen Ghazi said the US world view had two dimensions — internal and external. In the former the US tended to govern its society and people by a process of law, accountability, of strict principles.
In the latter the US was self-serving, where it was law unto itself, where it pursued a predatory policy of might. Therefore what we saw was that the US was a two-faced entity, and needed to be analysed in that perspective.
To back up his arguments Gen Ghazi referred to an article ‘The lowest white man’ by Charles M. Blow published in the New York Times on Jan 11, in which it’s highlighted that American society had come to represent what Trump represented. Quoting a line from the piece he said: “Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.”
Gen Ghazi said there was a pushback in the US against that agenda. There were liberal states that were working against it, and Pak-US relations depended on the success or otherwise of the pushback.
Gen Ghazi said the external dimension was coloured by the US-China competition which would shape the future. The significance for us [Pakistan] was that we were an important element of this relationship.
At the same time India was a US partner and its relation with Pakistan would also determine the manner in which its policy towards China would move forward. Afghanistan was the battleground [for US] to test and challenge both China and Pakistan.
The CPEC had the potential to change China from a one ocean to a two-ocean superpower that could frustrate the US Asia-Pacific strategy. Then there was the factor of a resurgent Russia, which had the potential of upsetting US-Asian alliance. Also, there was in the US mind an ambivalence with regard to India’s ability to be faithful to US interests and to be able to execute the deliverable vis-à-vis Afghanistan.
Gen Ghazi said in his view Trump’s tweet was not state policy because subsequent efforts of fence-mending meant that the US wanted to tread that ground softly. With respect to Afghanistan there was no talk from the US side for a negotiated settlement, something which worried Pakistan. The US-India strategic partnership to increase India’s role in Afghanistan struck at vital Pakistani interests, he said.
Gen Ghazi in the end mentioned America’s near- and long-term goals. The near term goals were to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and calibrate stability in that country because it wanted to use it as a base both against Pakistan and China.
The long-term goals were control over our nuclear weapons; they were looking at the contingency against the breakup of Pakistan; and they wished to promote regional stability through Indian preeminence.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2018