Central & South Asia

Pakistan-US Relations in a Trough, but Only for Now


3D rendering of two flags of Republic of pakistan and United States of America together with fabric texture, bilateral relations, peace and conflict between countries, great for background © patera / shutterstock.com

February 12, 2012 02:12 EDT
Analysis on the US-Pakistan relationship, and on the events which affected it over the last year.

New Delhi, Feb.3 (ANI): In his Union address on January 24 President Barack Obama said "One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the Seal Team took with them on the mission to get Bin Laden. On it are each of their names." This statement was taken quite differently in Pakistan, where the attack that killed Osama bin Laden took place a few miles away from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul.

In fact, the year 2011 has seen many incidents that have pushed US-Pakistan relations into an ever-deepening trough.

Raymond Davis, a former US Army soldier with the CIA, employed in Pakistan with a private contractor, shot dead two supposedly unarmed men. This incident led to a furor that refused to die away despite interventions by President Obama. Mr. Davis was eventually released and flown home on March 16 after the payment of $2.4mn as blood money (diyya).

The US resumed its attacks only a day after the release of Mr. Davis. Forty persons were killed in this attack on March 17 in Datta Khel in North Waziristan. The Army Chief of Pakistan, General Pervez Kayani,reacted very strongly describing this action as intolerable and unjustified.

More retaliation against the US was to follow. In April 2011 Pakistan suspended supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan for three days.

On May 2, the US announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Abbottabad. The US alleged that it had not been informed of Mr. Bin laden's whereabouts and this brought forward a multitude of reactions. The Pakistan Army notably was embarrassed, the civilian government showed its ineptitude and lack of control of the state, while the right wing was up in arms with a new display of virulent anti-Americanism. Meanwhile, the Doctor who had assisted the US to help find Mr.Bin Laden was taken into custody by the Pakistani authorities for being in touch with foreign intelligence agencies.

The terrorist attack on the PNS Mehran Karachi on May 26 which destroyed two US AWCs was retaliation against the US action that killed Mr.Bin Laden. This was a setback to US-Pak relations and another embarrassment for the Pakistan Army.

Admiral Mullen reacted on June 2, 2011 said that there would be a substantial cut in US forces in Pakistan followed by the US announcement on July 10 about the suspension of military aid worth $800mn.

On September 11, there was a massive truck bomb explosion on the outskirts of Kabul that injured 77 US soldiers and killed five Afghans. Two days later the US Embassy and NATO were both attacked by Taliban insurgents. Seven persons were killed and 19 were injured in this attack which was more of a show of strength against the symbols of US and NATO power. On September 22, one week before he was to demit office, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused Pakistan of supporting the Haqqani Network militant group in Afghanistan from its bases in Pakistan. As expected Pakistan denied this.

In October, leaks by a US citizen of Pakistani origin, Mansoor Ijaz led to the now famous or notorious Memogate scandal that cost Pakistan Ambassador Haqqani his job. The memo was supposed to have been delivered to Admiral Mullen earlier in May.  ISI chief General Pasha had specially flown to London for a secret meeting with Mr. Ijaz and it appeared that there was an intelligence overhang to this.

On November 26 NATO forces opened fire over the border hitting an army check post in the Mohmand agency of FATA, killing 24 Pakistani troops. In retaliation, General Kayani ordered that intruding drones be shot down and asked the US forces to vacate the Shamsi drone base in Balochistan, within a fortnight.

All the incidents above had hurt the ego of the Pakistan Army which now required to take a harsh position against an increasingly impatient and even domineering US. There were increasing signs in the US of a re-evaluation of its relations with Pakistan. Several think tanks were also predicting a dismal future. However this does not yet mean that there has been a permanent breach in the relations between Pakistan and US.Pakistan has always been obsessed with a desire to seek equality with India. In this quest, Pakistan’s leaders had perfected the art of handling the US, preserving and furthering its core interests essentially by using the advantages that geography has provided. The Pakistan-US romance began in the tense years of the Cold War. Since then although the enthusiasm has cooled at times it has periodically renewed with a new zeal.

While Pakistan has been consistently useful to the US in the protection of its global interests, the US has not minded if Pakistan occasionally took pot shots at its pro-Soviet neighbor. US and British diplomats went out of their way in the 1960s to push India into a deal with Pakistan on Kashmir that was designed to favor its ally.

India faced US anger during the 1971 war and again after the 1974 nuclear test. The US did not understand Indian interests. The 1980s were the years of the Afghan jihad and the US President repeatedly certified to the Congress Party in India that Pakistan was not building its nuclear bomb during that period. The 1990s were essentially Clinton years: a period of indifference as far as the Americans were concerned. During these years, Pakistan got its nuclear black market well organised.

Post the Kargil war, Pakistan was in trouble but only till September 11, 2001. Thereafter, once again Pakistan quickly became a stalwart ally of the allies. The US–Pakistan relationship is currently at its lowest ebb. This may not last long simply because Pakistan too has many limitations and despite its present bravado it cannot do without the US.

The US military and NATO report which was leaked recently said that the Taliban - backed by Pakistan - was poised to take charge of Afghanistan once foreign forces withdraw. The report also mentions that Pakistan was aware that senior Taliban representatives like Nasiruddin Haqqani lived in the vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad. The report also adds that the 27,000 interrogations of more than 400 captured Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorists establish a clear link between the ISI and the Taliban. This may be the first authoritative revelation.

Sooner or later, Pakistan will make moves to restore its relations with the US. For decades Pakistan has boxed above its weight by trying to militarily (and with sub-conventional jihadi options) take on a larger, stronger India with a greater depth: militarily, economically and geographically. During the Cold War the US was willing to even endorse this confrontation. Such military-oriented regimes and romances survive only so long as there is military congruence between the two powers.

Post September 2001 and post economic reforms in India, equations have changed between Washington and Islamabad and between Washington and New Delhi.

Today Pakistan's economy is in a mess and it has few friends who will be able to take on the burden of helping it. Saudi Arabia too may not provide any help this time. Pakistani Generals may have overplayed their hand. In the last year, the US has been able to reduce its dependence on Pakistan for the logistic support to NATO that was routed through Pakistan. The US has also seen the double-dealing of Pakistan and its stubbornness with regard to the US-led War on Terror. This is happening, at a time when Pakistan's chief was showing willingness and ability to assist the US effort. The blackmail has gone too far and this will have to stop but it is election year in the US. This means that the US too will need to accommodate some of Pakistan's positions.

Drone attacks have resumed in Pakistan and are an early sign that the US-Pakistan relationship may not have a great future. It is likely to remain an arrangement of convenience.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

*[This article originally appeard on Mr. Sood's blog.]

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