Pak-US ties following Modi’s Houston show

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Prevailing situation in Indian sub-continent definitely affecting US relations with Pakistan and India and so many questions arise in this connection. While Pakistan has key role to play by virtue of its geo strategic location in the Afghan crisis and American total dependence on it to help Washington facilitate a settlement with the Taliban government, President Trump’s recent remarks urging for the expansion of Indo-US cooperation in security and other fields at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mega show with the Indian f expatriates at Houston on 22 September last was the latest push for the growing strategic partnership between the two biggest democratic countries. This partnership is not of overnight evolution, it has been moving on the progressive trajectory promoted during the tenure of four successive American Presidents. It is firmly rooted in the convergence of their strategic interests and, according to Trump, in their shared democratic values.

Over time India has come to become part and parcel of the American strategy obviously to contain China. As compared to Pakistan which started its diplomatic career in the period of Cold War as Washington’s closest ally in East of Suez where Americans had a firm foothold for their spy crafts and operational basis for their land troops with basis in Pakistan. Notwithstanding occasional hiccups in relations Pakistan’s relations over the years got deteriorated, wearing off its veneer of special relations gradually conceding space to India in the competition for influence in and cooperation with Washington.

What has further adversely impacted Islamabad-Washington ties over the years is American arm twisting of Pakistan to stay away from being a staunch ally of the Chinese. Pakistan must be regretting now its disinterest in accepting the Chinese offer to take over Kashmir during the Sino-Indian war. President Ayub obliged President John F.Kennedy by offering India joint defence against common enemy from the north. Soon our ways parted company and Pakistan’s avid reluctance to be a party to American policy of containment of China has been a major factor for pulling the two countries in different directions.

The pulling of the two Cold War allies in different directions divergent in geo strategic interests was not only the major factor responsible for the growing disgorgement of ties between two former allies. Widening misunderstandings between Washington and Islamabad on Afghanistan and the issue of terrorism with the Americans orchestrating to seeking to do more mantra from Pakistan have played havoc in widening the gulf of distrust and alienation between them. Pakistan has also not succeeded in making any effort to initiate moves that could methodically get them closer to American foreign policy and security establishment, media, academics, and other opinion makers with a view to conveying to them effectively its point of view on important bilateral, regional and global issues. Further, it has been observed that unlike India it has not adequately lobbied Pakistani expatriates in the US for the promotion of its national interests. In this contest Pakistan’s slow rate of economic growth, its scientific and technological backwardness, and its failure to develop a stable political system on democratic lines have also had negative repercussions on Pakistan-US relations.

President George W.Bush Jr blundered into the war in Afghanistan after 9/11 on sexed dossiers of weapons of mass destruction and involvement in 9/11 attack when there was no Afghan involvement in it. It was all a conjured pretext to attack Afghanistan with the objective of taking over its natural resources and strategic location. Pakistan was dragged into it under threat -either you are with them or with us- to avoid being bombed into Stone Age. Americans felt that under the mistaken assumption that, after destroying Al Qaeda, it could impose a government of its choice on Afghanistan on a long-term basis through military means, that durable peace and stability could be restored in Afghanistan while excluding the Afghan Taliban from the government in Kabul, and that it could re-shape the conservative and tribal Afghan society in accordance with its own cultural values– not realising that Afghanistan has proved to be the graveyard of two imperial powers. This flawed policy ended the region into a conflict that is still on after 18 years of war. Now we see President Trump extremely desperate in striking a deal with a Taliban to withdraw before the elections next year.

The result of this flawed Afghanistan policy was an unending American war with the Afghan Taliban and constant US demands on Pakistan to do more in fighting the Taliban, who had taken refuge in its tribal areas, so as to lighten the burden of fighting on its own forces. Pakistan’s willingness to oblige the Americans made it the battleground against terrorism at enormous cost in blood and infra structure losses. Outrageously American leadership instead of correcting its Afghanistan policy and appreciating Pakistan’s support, has used Pakistan as an scapegoat for its own policy blunders. Obviously misunderstandings, American close relations with India have present context soured relationship between Pakistan-US further.

Ever since 9/11, the US raised the issue of terrorism to the top of its international agenda especially targeting Pakistan backed by New Delhi that took made full advantage of the American suspicions to malign Pakistan for the sake of its own strategic designs. General Pervez Musharraf’s policy Of cross border terrorism had an adverse impact on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy that was exploited by India to the hilt to brand Pakistan as a supporter of terrorism. New Delhi also blamed Pakistan for the Mumbai terrorist attack and the American sympathy for the Indian point of view had the effect of further aggravating Pakistan-US mistrust.

This collaboration between US and India brought the cat out of the bag at Houston mega show when President Trump called for Indo-US cooperation in fighting “radical Islamic terrorism’. However, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been doing his best to convince the Americans that Pakistan has severed off its relations with terror groups. On 27 September, US Acting Secretary of State Alice G. Wells in her opening statement at a press briefing in New York stated, “Prime Minister Khan made important public commitments regarding the need to prevent cross-border terrorism and sanctuary for terrorist organizations, which if implemented fully, would provide a strong basis for (Pakistan-India) dialogue.” These remarks reflected a remarkable similarity of the views of India and the US on the issue of terrorism. Of course, Ms. Wells also expressed US concern over widespread detentions (by the Indian authorities) of local leaders and the restrictions on the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. This obviously is a fresh start and let us hope our relations improve with both Washington and India to seek a negotiated settlement of Kashmir dispute.

(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)