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The US is the new India

Published Apr 15, 2012 12:30am


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IF there were a Sigmund Freud of international relations, he’d probably ask, ‘What does Pakistan want?’

The trajectories of Pakistan’s two critical relationships — with India and the US — in recent months suggest that we like to keep things complicated, very complicated.

For just as we start to approach the relationship with India more rationally, the US becomes the new India and we plunge that relationship into yet more incoherence and uncertainty.

It’s the same set of principals here, so why are they producing such different outcomes?

The army still dominates the national security and foreign policy domains but there is also the political government, the Foreign Office and a loose-knit group of security and foreign-policy experts who help shape policy.

What’s causing them to collectively choose such different paths, where the decades-old Enemy No 1 gets deepening trade and investment ties while a damaging clash over red lines with the US — on drones, for example — leaves everyone wondering where a vital trade and security relationship is headed?

There’s no Freud to help out here, so guesswork will have to suffice.

Start with India. The security establishment hasn’t suddenly unlearned all that it believed to be true about Indian policymakers and warriors for decades.

But the series of crises that rocked the army leadership last year created a small window of opportunity here. Uncertain and unsure, the army was more amenable to being convinced to do things it may have been reluctant to green-light before.

There have been similar moments in the past, but nobody to take advantage of them. This time, there was a tenacious and committed commerce secretary and a political government eager to improve ties with India.

So they pushed hard and it started to yield results. Notice how virtually every other subject in the ‘full-spectrum dialogue’ has meandered along without much progress. Trade and investment got a bigger, more concerted push and hence the breakthroughs.

It helped that the army’s own security prism was changing. Realising that Pakistan had fallen significantly behind India in economic terms and that strategic competition with India will be more and more expensive in the years and decades ahead, the army is also more amenable to new ideas.

Perhaps key to it all is that India is a well-understood problem. It’s such an old adversary, the contours of disagreement and avenues for conflict so well understood, that Pakistan can be confident there are few surprises in store. If India tries anything funny, Pakistan can quickly respond, the thinking would be.

Contrast this with the relationship with the US, where there’s so much more room for uncertainty and doubt.

Take the drones. The Americans themselves are figuring out the potential of the rapidly evolving technology. The first strike in 2004 already seems like another era. By 2008, the system’s capacity was up to nearly a dozen strikes a month and didn’t have to rely as much on Pakistani intelligence input.

An acceptance here behind the scenes of the inevitability of some strikes combined with frequent public denunciation of the strikes is an approach borne out of fear and uncertainty. What if a strike every other day became the norm? The Americans could then press to expand the area of operation. To date, an overwhelming majority of the strikes have occurred in the Waziristan agencies.

From there, they could expand to include the other tribal agencies more regularly, then to the settled districts adjoining the tribal areas and before you know it, the outskirts of Quetta or the sprawling shantytowns of Karachi could be targeted.

So opposing the inevitable — intermittent drone strikes in Fata — could help prevent the unknown — the raining down of missiles all over Pakistani territory.

And because drones are politically unpopular, there’s no one in the other policy camps to try and placate the army’s fears and convince them to try a different tack, as has happened on trade with India.

Another example: the future of Afghanistan. There are increasing signs that the Pakistan Army understands that it can’t dominate Afghanistan via Pakhtun proxies and keep that country isolated from the outside world like it did in the 1990s.

A nominal centre with the present configuration of power in the regions more or less adhered to and semi-guaranteed by outside powers, that makes the most sense for Afghanistan.

But the security establishment here believes that the main work needs to be done in Afghanistan first. Without a workable framework for a post-war future in Afghanistan, it doesn’t make sense for Pakistan to put its cards on the table or to make any concessions at this point.

Unlike the relationship with India, the relationship with the US is characterised by too many unknowns and too much uncertainty about what will happen even two or three years down the road.

Uncertainty causes the security establishment here to go into a defensive position and treat with great suspicion anything that could blow up in their face. The India problem is well understood. Nobody can claim for sure what Afghanistan will look like several years from now.

The army may not be thrilled about trade with India but has assessed that it will not undermine Pakistan’s position on ‘core issues’ and that it could be beneficial for our sluggish economy. So the push by the civilian apparatus, bureaucratic and political, is yielding results.

With the US, while everyone in policymaking circles agrees that the relationship cannot be allowed to break down, the army is filled with uncertainty about how to proceed; there are too many variables in play at the moment; and the civilians neither have the resolve nor the understanding to push for potentially game-changing options.

So that’s the difference. What Pakistan wants is to feel like it knows what it’s agreeing to.

The writer is a member of staff.

twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (42) Closed

Naseer Muhammad Apr 16, 2012 08:09pm
N Muhammad J Singh excellent comment!!! I'm a British Pakistani and the hour of the need is to work together. If we do the sky is the limit. Pakistan and India must unite !!!
Roger Apr 16, 2012 11:25am
most incoherent article I have ever read. Does not make sense.
Naseer Muhammad Apr 16, 2012 08:10pm
I meant need of the hour!!!
Ron Dsouza Apr 16, 2012 02:57am
Mr. Aziz, no doubt, the USA is the hated country in the Muslim world, but yet, the people of the this world are just dying to immigrate to the USA where everyone has the freedom in every aspect. In time of natural disasters, the people of Pakistan have short memory that it is the Americans who have always came to their aid with their technology & open-heartedness, whereas the guys who hate the Americans are just sitting it out without lending a helping hand to the disaster stricken people.
Babloo Apr 17, 2012 12:08am
Looks like more propoganda for the Pak army who have virtually dismantled and destroyed Pakistan in last 65 years.
Syed Apr 16, 2012 09:58pm
In reply to Naeeem, India doesn't allow Pakistani channels. If you read their online newspapers, they don't even highlight Pakistan cricket victories very well. On the other hand, Indian channels are open to air in Pakistan and Pakistani media gives really good coverage to Indian cricket and movies, etc. So who is secular and who is not, doesn't make a difference.
Girly Apr 16, 2012 08:20pm
no poor country cares for helping others , if Pakistan prospers it will surely try to help others Inshallah, But in the case of U.S. , i agree with M Malik
tariq k sami Apr 16, 2012 12:09am
I had read somewhere that the USA is the most feared/hated country in the world. Pakistan may be a distant second. Cyrill missed the moot point: The imperialist forces are on the march. Pakistan is the last stand.
winston churchil Apr 16, 2012 09:33am
well thought off, and well meaning borther.
riza Apr 16, 2012 09:23am
But still every one is dying to acquire the citizenship of that most hated country. How amazing?
M Malik Apr 16, 2012 09:17am
US has no interst in Pakistans' wellbeing, it watches its own interests at firsthand, being an Ally is a charm only.
M Malik Apr 16, 2012 09:11am
Thanks God Almighty Allah gave courage to Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to get a separate homeland for Muslims, Pakistan. No doubt, Pakistan is a great blessing for us all. The hatred for Muslims & Intolerance against Islam can be observed on Hindu Media/TOI in India.
Naeem Apr 16, 2012 04:32pm
My dear Friend. I am an Indian muslim. Media in India is extremely secular and is one of the pillars of our democracy. We have more muslims than all of OIC countries minus Indonesia. So, your assumption is wrong.
J. Singh Apr 16, 2012 08:31am
I am a person of Indian origin. I live in the U.S. I am totally disgusted by the fact that India and Pakistan are today not dominating the world in every sphere of life. We have the resources the manpower and most of all, the intelligence. We are instead at the bottom of the ladder in economics, sports and developmental in general. People say India is ahead, but everything is relative. There are hundreds of millions starving there. I suggest that we collectively declare a Jihad. But jihad against poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. Every decision should be towards that goal. We can then compete with each other on that basis.
A s ahmed Apr 16, 2012 05:56am
Great analogy!
Syed Apr 16, 2012 09:16pm
Try to get your facts right! its good to google before claiming something. Pakistan has more Musilms than India.
Girish Apr 16, 2012 01:28pm
that is true with every country. Pakistan too looks into its own interest, it is not know for charity for others against its national interests.
Aziz Apr 15, 2012 07:43pm
Take a straw poll globally and find out for yourself which is the most hated country in the world. Mr. Almeida might also cast the same vote if he is at the receiving end of the thick boot. No need to mention who is wearing it now.
Girly Apr 16, 2012 08:33pm
well said bro
david Apr 15, 2012 06:57pm
@nasha(usa)First it was iraq well weapons of mass destruction was the reason to invade iraq,up to date nobody ever found any kind of weapons in iraq.Then of course Afghanistan,it's been 10 years now the most powerfull army of the world can't handel a bunch of farmer's wearing sandles living in the stone age,then we all heared in the news media about a joint usa-israel attack on iran,don't you think it's you who is in need for the enemy--the more the merreir
vjaiswal35 Apr 15, 2012 06:26pm
A very interesting analysis. The point has to be understood that every one around must work within it's own boundaries for progress & economic development of this backward and poor region. Aspirations of changing boundaries and theories of strategic depth or engineering troubles in the name of religion, human rights or freedom etc must stop. To day all of us are living in fragile glass houses of poverty, illiteracy etc so throwing stones on each other will destroy us. Days of wielding Military power are gone. lets us not cling to hatred.
z2cents Apr 16, 2012 07:48am
Agree..the only funny is what the Pakistanis think India will do..funnier is the so called "response".
Dip Apr 15, 2012 08:09pm
In this three way circus, the USA has the muscle and the confidence. India has the muscle but no confidence. Pakistan has confidence but no muscle. Go figure.
Girly Apr 16, 2012 08:30pm
To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence. Mark Twain
Girly Apr 16, 2012 08:25pm
being a pakistani, i agree with you. No doubt , the ppl in Pak are really talented and hardworking but because of corrupt leaders, Pakistan cant get out of this mess easily
RYAN LOEB Apr 16, 2012 08:29pm
indeed mr.singh u are right.
akhtar tak Apr 15, 2012 05:24pm
If any thing US thinks of Pakistan no more than a taxi that it can ride every now and then and the fact is that Pakistan is no more than a taxi,a borrowed ,old ,decript vehicle
ram Apr 15, 2012 09:27pm
Still Do More....but from other side!! Relationship of Friend & Foe is between equals.....We are not....So make ite business...Give & take
jose thomas Apr 15, 2012 09:14pm
A starving country needs to eat before it can fight...that's the reason for trade with India. The politicians and the military need the no matter how much the people of Pakistan hate the U.S.The Americans will always have a presence there.Things will as usual as soon as the present dust settles down
Shamsuddin Apr 15, 2012 05:30pm
I wait for Cyril's analytical articles on the issues which are unusally complicated.The wait is always worth it , because Cyril's unusual ability to cut through the fogs of myths make the issues simple to understand for a layman like me. More power to your pen Cyril. GBY.
Karachishehar Apr 15, 2012 10:17pm
How do you reconcile this with a very common phrase in Indian polity; "India's sphere of influence" ? Not to mention India's desire to be a superpower.
Shriram K Apr 15, 2012 10:14pm
well india has grown significantly well, no doubt about that, but what is happening in pakistan is a sad story, a nation capable of doing so much is silent and the Pakistan leaders are like stones, they should learn from india, south africa and brazil..using army, isi and anti india slogans won't help you grow your economy, one day people will get tired of you. And US is waiting for this.
Dubaakoru Apr 16, 2012 07:12pm
krishnapachegonker Apr 15, 2012 05:02pm
us has been very selfish and shrewd in its relations with india and pakistan!
anand(Canada) Apr 15, 2012 10:09pm
analysis can't be more perfect!!
shouvik Apr 15, 2012 10:05pm
Very intresting and sensible analysis. But history shows that whenever Indo-Pak ties are on the upswing, the non-state actors get busy..
waseem Apr 15, 2012 10:02pm
Indeed, so who sent forces to Siachin? this was 15 years before Kargil, and there may be more funny things. If you have read history, also recall Run of Kuchh, where Indians flared up the war, in an area, which was finally accepted as Pakistan.
Monty... Apr 15, 2012 05:34pm
"If India tries anything funny, Pakistan can quickly respond, the thinking would be"....ha ha... India has never been funny...entire world knows who will...It is very unfortunate that you still live in delusions...come out....
abc Apr 18, 2012 06:22pm
there is nothing in it being secular or not, by allowing pakistani channels or media in india and vice-versa. its all about the quality. Which ever has more viewership, businessmen will invest in the venture. simple.
NASAH (USA) Apr 15, 2012 02:59pm
Cyril is right about Pakistan's need for the enemy -- the more the merrieir.
Qalim Apr 15, 2012 04:15pm
USA too had to find another bogeyman after USSR disintegrated and in this case had helped build it in the 80s.......birds of a feather ! Analysis is well made though - hopefully the Pakistani donation at Ajmeri Baba's produces progress between th neighbours.
Harry, London (UK) May 08, 2012 11:17pm
I observed someone aptly commented -- "Pakistan is an army in need of a country"!