By Salman Bashir
Pakistan and the United States were close allies for more than half a century, with the national interests of Pakistan and the global interests of the US converging along a narrow band since the 1950s. Theirs was always an unequal relationship but was given a strategic connotation based on the global and regional circumstances of the times.
Exigencies of the Cold War, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the freedom struggle of the Afghans, followed by counter-terrorism efforts remained the driving factors for Pakistan–US ties. Bilaterally, Pakistan benefitted from US’ economic and technological support in those early decades, after its independence in 1947.
Pakistanis genuinely believed in the US-championed values of freedom, democracy, human rights, political pluralism, democracy and free markets. These were the rallying ideals of campaigns organized and sponsored by the US across the globe, representing the essence of western civilization and the free world.
An unshakeable belief in these ideals and values — even though objective conditions at home warranted a degree of rigor at governance — sustained an impression of being on the right side of history. It also highlighted domestic political struggles and the country’s absolute fascination with democracy.
The authoritarian order in Pakistan, time and again, was overturned exactly due to its fascination with pseudo-democracy and its exploitation by political classes to perpetuate their vested interests. The liberal elite and political forces, as well as the superior judiciary, continue to strive to match up to these notions which do not always conform to the century-old dictum of the divine right to rule in this part of the world. Derogations from democracy, resulting from military coup d’états, were apologetically explained away by the doctrine of necessity at critical junctures in Pakistan’s political evolution.
While the US’ world view and global strategies dictated the course of bilateral relations, the effects of an alliance with the US had a deep impact in fashioning Pakistan’s society, politics and national ethos. Like a pupil in kindergarten, the nation was attentive to the teacher and desperate to win accolades for being well-behaved. The trauma of being declared aberrant, off late, has therefore caused considerable perplexity, resulting in a loss of self-esteem and thus exaggerated reactions.
Anger is self-destructive and, in a reckless manner, politicians have used all syllables and connotations from the western playbook to overturn everything that had original substance and value for the development of the nation. Imported notions, alien to historical and cultural conditions can only wreak havoc. A mere pretense is no substitute for the original. It depicts a lack of confidence in one’s own worth, culture and geographic specifics.
Pakistan’s significance for the US at this point is mostly due to Afghanistan. Under its present administration, the US has not only walked away from Pakistan but also from the values and ideals that it had long espoused. The primary driver for reworking US-Pakistan bilateral relations will be a ‘reset’ of respective views, interests and actions pertaining to Afghanistan.
Although the real interests of Pakistan and the US converge on Afghanistan, not many in Washington see it that way. Ostensibly, US President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan and South Asia Strategy of 2017 does not permit a lenient view towards Pakistan, even if this were critical to the success of the US mission in Afghanistan. However, some US scholars and former diplomats realize that it is a mistake to write off Pakistan, which is strategically situated and may, in the years ahead, play a significant role in determining the complexities of the new struggles of Eurasia.
Pakistan will have to find internal stability, cohesion and maintain a constructive cool, if it is to have any positive relevance for its friends. It seems that destructive anger, social and political chaos – combined with questionable economic conditions — are challenges inherent to an agitated state of mind, which can be overcome with wisdom and forbearance.
(Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan.