By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
The New Year has begun-hoping against hope. We have not only entered interesting times but also much more challenging than the previous. Domestic front continues to become murkier, internationally writing on the wall is not too encouraging with the American President threatening to do things that we never expected Washington would do to its once most trusted alley.
A spiritually charged disqualified prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has returned home from the holy places with divine inspiration to spill the beans if need be to what turpitudes he had been through in his 4 years of third term as prime minister. On the other hand, his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif till today no 2 in the pecking order of the Sharif family, has perhaps spent more time in bathing himself with holy water so that he gets anointed to succeed in the dirty boots of his elder brother. However, rumours say that the visits of the two brothers had nothing to do with NRO or Pakistani politics. They were tagged to the investigations into corruption by some princes with whom Pakistan’s most powerful family had deep business connections.
These seems to be currents and cross currents in domestic politics waiting to cross the barrier of Senate election in March to move onto national election in May, businesss with the next door neighbours- India and Afghanistan-is as usual. Afghanistan does not give up orchestrating to see ISI’s hand in the bomb blasts and the blame game continues. In a different hue-while the media on both sides of the divide-continues to add its hype to mutual violations on line of control, business continues to be usual between the two National Security Advisers who met in the erotic Bangkok. The message remains innocuous or syncs would call the trip to be more of pleasure than business. What transpired in Riyadh or Bangkok -would some day come out when the Butler who saw everything would spill the beans, currently most important is the war of words getting hotter between the United States and Pakistan. It seems to be a most dreadful turning point in the 70-year old trajectory of relations between Washington and Islamabad. Our relations that started as of between friends and not masters-today are no better than that of master and servant.
Once we were called a cornerstone of American foreign policy-most trusted alley of Washington East of Suez where the Americans had air bases and footholds to carry out their anti-communist operations. These imperialistic concessions were given to them by Field Marshal Ayub Khan in exchange of military assistance and political legitimacy. Forty years down the road Pakistan has been rendered into tombstone of that foreign policy. To understand Pakistan’s relations with United States -especially when they are in total mess– one would like to refer to two extremely relevant books. President Mohammad Ayub Khan’s book, “Friends Not Masters” — a sort of shikwa (Complain) with the super power for its treatment of its most trusted ally. On the opening page of his autobiography he gives his quote that says it all about relations that rose to sublime heights and then fell to the state of being ridiculous. His words “People in developing countries seek assistance, but on the basis of mutual respect: they want to have friends not masters”. Ayub Khan learnt much too late in the day the meaning of American phrase-“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.
In his treatise on foreign policy “Myth of Independence”, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto further sizes up from where Ayub left in his book, Pakistan’s bitter exploitation by the United States through its ingress in various institutions including defence. Based on his experience of being a key member of Ayub government as well as its foreign minister, he states that the situation Pakistan found itself in was such that every decision of any importance, even as regards matters that ought to have been of purely internal concern, was affected by some aspect, real or imaginary, of international relations, especially of commitments to the United States of America. Even some times American interfered in the posting of Section Officers. He became a thorn in the eyes of the Americans when in 1960 as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources he negotiated with the Soviet Union for an oil agreement. It was significant since it was first break thorough towards improving relations with Moscow. “I was convinced that the time had arrived for the Government of Pakistan to review and revise its foreign policy.”
Ayub Khan was totally sold out to the Americans that he allowed them air base near Peshawar to fly their spy planes for surveillance over the Soviet Union until the day when Russian fighters caught American spy plane U-2 piloted by Gerry Powers and brought it down to the ground. Soviet Premier Khrushchev was so furious that he red-pencilled Peshawar and threatened to destroy it in case of repetition.
SZAB as Pakistan’s foreign minister changed the direction of foreign policy and diversified defence procurement. He took Pakistan closest to China despite the fact Ayub offered India “joint defence against the common enemy from the north” during 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict to please American President John F. Kennedy. Pakistan owes it to Bhutto’s wisdom that not only it has become self-sufficient in defence when previously it suffered repeatedly from US arms embargo. While all his efforts to diversify and have an independent foreign policy met American resistance, it was his fast track pursuit of nuclear programme after break up of Pakistan in 1971 and Indian explosion of a nuclear devise-that got Americans so angry that he was communicated he would be made an horrible example and the person who later in 1979 executed this threat was Army Chief General Ziaul Haq.
Pakistan’s foreign policy fell from the sublime to ridiculous when it became a pathetic extension for pursuit of American strategic interests vigorously followed by General Pervez Musharraf. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had warned elder Bush in 1989 not to sustain and build Taliban as they would grow into Frankenstein impossible to control. As you sow so shall you reap. Both Americans and Pakistan are paying through their nose for helping a religiously fanatic force to bring down communist Soviet Union. Notwithstanding rhetoric of American leaders like President Woodrow Wilson fighting a war to make world safe for democracy and the like, in foreign policy of a nation it is its national interests that matter most. Corner stone of American foreign policy has been the Monroe Doctrine. It first spelled out in 1823 briefly American policy as isolationist and that it would not allow European colonial powers to enter or interfere with states in the North America. President James Monroe asserted in his annual message to Congress: ‘The American continents … are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.
Being cornerstone as it is, it has remained a key factor in American foreign policy whether it is cold war, a stand off with the erstwhile Soviet Union over Bay of Pigs or its current pursuit of geo-strategic interests by creating uncertainties around the world. Its war on terror on sexed up dossiers to attack and destruction of Iraq on its mythical possession of weapons of mass destruction, fermenting and underwriting move to oust Syrian President Bashrul Asad, invasion of Afghanistan, President Trump’s New Year offensive against Pakistan-are all a manifestation of the super power’s failure to tame Afghan Taliban to bring them around to serving its free-market imperialism aimed at seizing the Afghan resources.
During the three long tenures of military dictators Pakistan’s vital interests were sold out to the Americans for self-dividends and stamp of external legitimacy. First General Ayub Khan tied us to the American apron strings, rendering us into slaves. His later successors General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf in order to remain in pelf and power denying the democratic rights of the people, dealt Pakistan crippling blows by surrendering Pakistan and its armed forces as a mercenary institution in service of the geo-strategic interests of the Americans. Rent-a-crowd that we had come to be, today we get told by President Trump that Washington was cheated by Islamabad. It did not do enough for American 33 billion dollars.
One wonders who would tell President Trump that in diplomacy nice words matter more than shooting from the hip. Pakistan’s foreign minister has rightly told American president “no more” of his undiplomatic nonsense. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi has held National Security Committee meeting. However, as leader of opposition Khursheed Shah has suggested, it would be more appropriate to debate the American threats in the Joint session of the Parliament and come up with befitting response President Trump’s jingoism and how to counter it effectively. No doubt the gravity of the situation requires a leader like Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or his daughter martyred Benazir Bhutto to steer Pakistan’s leaderless flotilla to the safer shores, the challenges before the nation are onerous. It has not only to put its house in order but to revive the glory and respect that it had enjoyed in the comity of nations during the tenure in power of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. As a first step, we should say no to American dole outs. It will change our slavish mindset to be readily available as mercenary to do the dirty work for anyone who can pay.
(The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)