By Nida Afaque
The Davis affair, OBL raid, Salalah attack, closure of NATO supply routes were one pitfall succeeded by another until one could only wonder: could this get any worse? The current state of affairs does not appear any less dismal. Persistent demands of abstaining from drone strikes from Pakistan’s end have only fallen on deaf ears. Suspicions of al-Zawahiri’s presence and the US House subcommittee’s proposal of imposing conditions on aid to Pakistan indicate that reconciliation may not be around the corner. The looming withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014 also means an agreement acceptable to the regional powers has to be made before the forces exit Afghanistan.
What does this mean for Pakistan and where does it see its relations with America heading?
A good place to start is to understand United States’ objectives for the region and the role Pakistan comes to play in achieving these objectives. The US wants to ensure that terrorists from this region are no longer a threat to its national security and that Afghanistan has a democratically stable government which works in the interests of the masses. Coalition forces have been carrying out a direct attack on terrorists and have recently started divulging power to Afghan National Forces and accepting many of their terms to culminate in the Strategic Partnership Agreement.
Over the years, Pakistan’s role in the war on terror has become increasingly active. For a third world country, Pakistan has tried to relocate its meager resources and armed forces against terrorists taking refuge near the Afghan border. Thousands of lives have been lost and cities and towns have turned to dust. America, however, is not too sympathetic for it believes Pakistan is not mustering all the force it can behind this cause. One cannot blame Pakistan if they fall short in their efforts. America has not set a good precedent from the Soviet war and Iraq is still reeling from the effects of foreign intervention. It is thus quite natural for Pakistan to look out for itself by holding the Taliban card. Pakistan has protested against US demands and presence by boycotting the Bonn Conference and evacuating US forces from some of its airbases. But it will remain wary of taking drastic steps with matters like CSF funds still due unsettled.
The US needs the support of local powers to ensure sustainability of peace efforts. But reaching out to India, Russian and Central Asian republics over Pakistan only reflects American distrust of their so-called ally, Pakistan. Things are not too sunny for these Asian powers whose national economies and people are proving to be a handful for the governments. India is experiencing a decline in rupee against the dollar while Russia’s domestic politics are a major concern for its public. Russia also continues to maintain a strong influence on the central Asian republics. Even China has been losing its manufacturing activities to other countries. Therefore, these countries may not be willing to wholeheartedly participate in achieving US’s goals because of which US may have to resign to Pakistani assistance.
For Pakistan, diplomatic relations with the United States extend to the economic and social realms too. America remains amongst Pakistan’s top trading partners and has carried out developmental projects to improve living and social conditions of its people. Collaborating with NGOs and local business partners the US has funded projects aiming to tap Pakistan’s natural resources help alleviate the rampant energy crisis. Time and again US’s strong commitment towards alleviating Pakistan’s internal crises has surfaced, but this interest reflects US’s own regional interests. The US has offered cheaper gas alternatives and has tried to revive the TAPI project which had until recently lost much of its fervor in an attempt to discourage the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project. For now, despite its level of dependence on the IMF and World Bank (both of which are highly influenced by the US), and an open call for sanctions by the US, Pakistan has decided to go ahead with the IP pipeline.
Contributions in the social sector have been more than significant. Since 2002, the US has been providing $ 2 billion aid annually to Pakistan making it the third largest recipient of US aid. Just last year $ 1277 million and $ 1143 million were allocated to military and civilian programs respectively. Some of their eminent projects include Fulbright Scholarship, BISP and HEC.
After 2014, the US will have a remarkably smaller force present and with no impending security mission, Pakistan can expect them to be more forthcoming in civilian projects. In fact, America has already started to improve its image by publicizing its share in agriculture, education and health sectors. This could help legitimize US aid and at the same time make a difference to Pakistan’s paltry social welfare system.
While the governments of the two countries seem to be struggling to make things work, the masses may not harbor the same sentiments. Some conservatives have been remonstrating against US influence in Pakistan and have successfully organized themselves under the banner of Difa-e-Pakistan. Even though US aid to Pakistan is less than 1.2% of the GDP, this small amount of aid magnifies its effect in terms of the efficacy with which these institutions work, and the sectors it has been channeled towards. Breaking ties with US therefore might prove disastrous for the social welfare development, whereas aligning with them can open doors to diplomatic relations with other foreign powers. However, staying under US influence might only make us increasingly dependent, and with a strong backbone to structure and solidify the building blocks of our nation, these high levels of dependence may eventually compromise on our sovereignty. Such a mindset is also found on the American side which doubts Pakistan’s intentions in the war on terror.
Times may be tumultuous but a complete breakdown of diplomatic relations will be prevented by the interdependence of the two countries. The recent setbacks have sent the relationship decades behind. American withdrawal from Afghanistan coupled with changes in the internal climate of Asia’s regional countries will produce a shift in political and economic power dynamics.
These power dynamics may shift in favor of America. Its global power and influence is widely acknowledged. Neither Pakistan nor any of its other allies pose as a formidable competition to the US. Thus it is highly possible to expect Pakistan to bend to the terms demanded by US. But as Hafeez Malik suggests in US Relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Imperial Dimension, America might lose its stronghold due to an “imperial overstretch”. Pakistan’s current civilian government has been resisting what they believe is unnecessary US interference. It did close down NATO routes, expel US forces from the Shamsi air base and may continue to stand against US imperialism. Pakistan may altogether decide to abandon the War on Terror and risk losing military and possibly civilian aid. Even worst is the possibility of US interpreting this to be a hostile move and giving in to its fears of a terrorist nation. We could then be looking at the latest venue of the War on Terror. Then again, we must not overlook the anxious efforts US is making to leave Afghanistan. Just like it came to accept Afghan demands for the transition process, it may also agree to do so with Pakistan. After all, it has repeatedly been stressed that Pakistan is an essential component to their operations in the region.
How the situation unfolds has yet to be seen but one thing is for certain; this is relationship is worth salvaging in some form than not having any relationship at all. The latest impasse is an opportunity for Pakistan and US to reach a common ground on contentious issues and build a relationship which is not based on merely temporary circumstances.