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Gary Powers & ties with US

July 04, 2012

THE posthumous award given five decades later to Francis Gary Powers by the American Air Force last month brings to mind not only the halcyon days for Pakistan in foreign relations; it serves to highlight the difficulties, some of them self-imposed, in Islamabad’s relations not just with Washington but perhaps with the whole world.

The decision on reopening the Nato supply route took seven months, and little minds may pride themselves on Hillary Clinton’s “sorry” statement. But incalculable damage has been done to relations with the United States. We may perhaps forget Salala, but the series of events — Raymond Davis, the aftermath of the Abbottabad raid, the boycott of the Bonn conference, the evacuation of the Shamsie base and the confrontational posture Islamabad was made to adopt by the military — will continue to haunt our relations not just with America but with a larger group of states. Often it appeared we seemed quite happy in the company of Iran and North Korea. This is not Pakistan’s inherent worth.

Powers had flown off in his U-2 on his spying mission over the Soviet Union from the American base at Badaber, near Peshawar, in what then was the NWFP, on May 1, 1960. His plane was shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile. He was captured, tried and convicted, but released two years later in a prisoner swap with America.

While Nikita Khrushchev gloated over the shooting down of the spy plane because it bolstered his image vis-à-vis president Eisenhower, who felt humbled, the Soviet leader was furious with Pakistan. On a Soviet national day reception, he came to where the Pakistan ambassador was sitting and told him the Soviet military had drawn a red circle round Peshawar.

The Ayub regime remained unruffled, and the incident did nothing to upset US-Pakistan relations, which remained on firm ground until the 1965 war, when America cut off the supply of spares during the war. The first breach in US-Pakistan relations had occurred. In 1973, Bhutto visited Washington to meet Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s former vice-president, then in the White House, to get America to resume the military aid. Nixon’s book, In the Arena, testifies to his warmth for Pakistan. But the Nixon presidency was bogged down in the Watergate scandal, and as Bhutto told the National Press Club at Washington, the ‘gate’ had begun to affect America’s foreign relations, for one didn’t know whom to talk to.

A decade and a half were to pass before America were to ‘return’ to Pakistan as Babrak Karmal entered Afghanistan on a Soviet tank while 100,000 Soviet troops came marching behind him on Christmas eve 1979. Following the Soviet defeat and the victory of America’s beloved militants, the Mujahideen, Washington once again washed its hands of Pakistan.

As America ‘re-returned’ in full force following 9/11, and is planning a withdrawal now 10 years later without having finished the job, one bit of harsh truth deserves to be made part of all geopolitical curricula. Unforeseen events and geopolitical compulsions may force America and Pakistan to ally themselves a thousand times against a given enemy, but there will always be one immutable truth governing their relationship — the two have never agreed, and will never ever agree, on each other’s view of India. No matter how much aid America gives to Pakistan, and no matter how much Islamabad goes out of its way to accommodate Washington, mutual suspicion will always mar their bonhomie, because neither side will ever be ready to re-evaluate its fundamentals with regard to New Delhi. Afghanistan falls somewhere in between.

The only realistic course for the two sides is to build their relationship on this invariable and accept its immutability. Expectations in that case would be low but durable and fruitful, the number of fruits being fewer. Nevertheless, it would be worth it. Pakistan especially has to realise the limits on the freedom of its diplomacy. If old-timers were to come out of their graves — Manzur Qadir and Bhutto, to name only two — they would be appalled at our handling of diplomacy in a manner that runs counter to the fundamental principles of diplomacy.

There is also one extraordinary contradiction in the policies being pedalled by the opposition, especially the Difa-i-Pakistan Council and PTI. The DPC claims to be anti-India, but it forgets that the long-term effects of its strong anti-American line are counterproductive and tend to favour our eastern neighbour. In fact, looking at it from New Delhi’s point of view, the DPC and PTI are doing an excellent job by making every effort to isolate Pakistan from the world and thus offer limitless economic and geopolitical opportunities to India at our expense.

An indication of the damage done to Pakistan’s geopolitical interests between Salala and now is the degree to which Kabul and New Delhi have moved closer individually and bilaterally to Washington in a menacing move. Basking in anti-Indian rhetoric, the rabble rousers have inadvertently and very thoughtlessly advanced New Delhi’s cause the way India itself would perhaps not have imagined. A two-front conflict could be DPC’s gift to Pakistan.

Another U-2 plane is not going to take off from Pakistan or possibly from anywhere in the world, because satellite imagery has made spying much more easy, flawless, risk-free and pleasurable. But for Pakistan, neither geography nor history has changed. Those who conceptualise and run Pakistan’s foreign policy without taking these factors into consideration deserve to be pitied.

The writer is a member of staff.