Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has just concluded a series of meetings in Washington with his American counterparts. Hillary Clinton dubbed these talks a “strategic dialogue” with a country with which the U.S. has had a decades-long up and down relationship.
As is often the case between a superpower and a much weaker country, the relationship brightens up when the former needs the latter in some capacity. It reverts to the doldrums when that requirement subsides.
Pakistan was a faithful Cold War ally reaping considerable U.S. assistance. The first shock to Pakistan came in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, when the U.S. remained neutral. It did not come to the aid of its ally against Soviet-leaning India.
That betrayal lingers today in Pakistani circles.
Pakistan’s value to the U.S. increased manifold when the Soviets foolishly invaded Afghanistan. Pakistan allowed itself to become the principal conduit of U.S. military and financial assistance to the Afghan Resistance.
After the defeat and departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan, the U.S. pulled up stakes. Pakistan was left alone to deal with the horrible mess in the region after 10 years of bloody conflict. Relations stood frozen once again. That was the second betrayal of Pakistan by its ally.
After 9/11 occurred, Pakistan once again sided with George Bush’s “war on terror”. For its frontline role, it gained U.S. assistance in the first decade of the 21st century, estimated at $15 billion. Most of it went to replenishing military hardware. Much less went to economic development.
Pakistan has paid a huge price in the effort to defeat violent extremism, which had permeated across its porous border from Afghanistan since the advent of al-Qaeda and the civil war in Afghanistan.
Admittedly, during the Musharraf era, some of the Pakistani leader’s actions were ambivalent. Pakistan found it difficult to abandon some of its homegrown militant outfits. This ambivalence earned it the ire and mistrust of the U.S.
On the other hand, the Pakistani leadership feels that the U.S. is a fairweather friend. Their fear is that after the U.S. forces exit Afghanistan, the U.S. will abandon its “major non-NATO ally” once again.
While the Foreign Minister was the ostensible leader of the large Pakistani contingent, all eyes were on General Ashfaq Kayani, the taciturn Army Chief.
Some observers have opined that following the Pakistan Army’s successes subduing the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) in the Tribal Areas, Kayani is calling the shots in Pakistan.
The civilian government in Pakistan has not been able to effectively tackle the alarming deterioration in Pakistan’s socioeconomic indicators. Inflation is running at 15% per annum. Electricity and water shortages have compounded the hardships of the people.
The Pakistani Taliban have retaliated through a spate of suicide attacks. The toll of civilians killed in the past few years through these attacks stands at around 10,000, while around 3,000 soldiers have died while conducting counterinsurgency operations against the TTP.
Those are heartrending figures. Regardless, the Pakistanis came to Washington with a long wish list.
They requested enhanced financial aid, access to the U.S. market for Pakistani textiles, acceptance of Pakistan’s status as a nuclear power just like that accorded by the U.S. to India, and disbursement of held-up funds under the Coalition Support Fund and the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. This list is indicative but not exhaustive.
Pakistan also pleaded strongly for the recognition by the U.S. of the former’s legitimate security interests in Afghanistan and for help in resolving the intractable Kashmir dispute with India.
The U.S. has pledged Pakistan its durable engagement and assistance, long after it has left Afghanistan.
The U.S. in turn wants Pakistan to extend its counterinsurgency operations into North Waziristan. It wants Pakistan to continue vigorously pursuing and apprehending Taliban and al-Qaeda elements hiding in Pakistan.
It is encouraging that such an in-depth dialogue took place. Both sides have laid out their wish lists and concerns.
Let’s hope that this renewed engagement helps both the US and Pakistan to achieve their mutual objectives. Above all, the relationship should not be allowed to founder, as in the past, on the shoals of indifference, inertia and mutual incomprehension.
– S. Azmat Hassan