News & Views
PAKISTAN and the US have been allies right from 1950s to early 1990 till the collapse of the Soviet Union. In May 1954, Pakistan had signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement with the United States. Later in that year it became a member of SEATO; a year later, it joined the Baghdad Pact, and in 1958 when Iraq left this pact after the revolution, it was renamed CENTO comprising Turkey, Iran and Pakistan as its regional members. Early in 1959, Pakistan signed (as did Turkey and Iran) a bilateral Agreement of Cooperation with the United States, which was designed further to reinforce the defensive purposes of CENTO. Thus Pakistan was associated with the United States through not one, but four mutual security arrangements. Of course there have been periods marred with misunderstanding and lack of warmth due to difference in perceptions over regional issues.
Nevertheless, America has been generous in giving aid and grants till 1960s, and then in 1980s during Afghan war. Pakistan on its part always honoured its commitments during the Cold War, and then also in war on terror. In the past, if it was Suez Canal issue or Vietnam, Pakistan government stood by its allies though it was against the aspirations of the great majority of people of Pakistan. Anyhow, relations during last few years came under strains and stresses over the degrading language and observations in the Kerry-Lugar Bill on Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, which even a banana republic will not tolerate. India has indeed a strong lobby in American Congress, which influences a handful of US lawmakers to create doubts about Pakistan. But Pentagon and US administration do understand Pakistan’s importance, and will not be taken in by the shenanigans of the think tanks.
Last month, ‘The Newsweek’ carried a report on Ayman al-Zwahiri authored by Jeff Stein, who had served the U.S. Army Intelligence as a case officer from 1968 to 1969 and stationed in Vietnam. He is a member of both the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and Investigative Reporters and Editors. It was in this backdrop that Jeff Stein extensively quoted Bruce Riedel and other detractors of Pakistan to denigrate Pakistan, its military and intelligence agencies. It has to be mentioned that two weeks before anniversary of the 2nd May attack on Abbottabad Compound by Navy Seals in which Osama bin Laden was killed, efforts are being made to persuade Trump administration to take out Ayman al-Zwahiri the way Osama bin Laden was killed, which the report said is residing in Karachi and alleged he is being protected by the ISI.
The lengthy report is based on conjectures, and among other things it stated: “Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has been protecting the Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri, a trained surgeon, since US forces evicted Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan in late 2001, several authoritative sources tell Newsweek.” Bruce Riedel stated that Ayman al-Zawahiri’s most likely location today is Karachi, adding “like everything about his location, there’s no positive proof,” which means that it is a mere conjecture. Bruce Riedel is Director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution. He retired in 2006 after 30 years service at the Central Intelligence Agency including postings overseas. He was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four Presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council at White House. He is using his CIA background to put Pakistan on the mat.
Lisa Curtis, in her February article for the conservative Hudson Institute, co-authored with Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. wrote: “For too long, the U.S. has given Pakistan a pass on its support for some terrorist groups based in Pakistan, including those used against India. The U.S. should no longer settle for Pakistan’s excuses for delaying a full-throttle crackdown on these terrorist groups and should instead hold Pakistan accountable for the activities of all terrorist groups on its soil.” Today Lisa Curtis is Senior Director for South and Central Asia at the White House National Security Council. However, she alone cannot influence President Donald Trump’s policy decisions on South Asia and on future US-Pakistan relations. The report recommended curtailing assistance to the military if it assists groups that kill US troops in Afghanistan or American visitors in India.
However, US Defence Secretary General (rtd) James Mattis during the confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Forces Committee recognized that Pakistan had suffered badly from terrorism and had learnt hard lessons from the experience. He praised Pakistan for fighting militants and told the committee that Pakistan army had suffered significant casualties in the counterinsurgency effort. He stressed the need for building mutual trust and vowed to help the administration in evolving “an effective partnership.” He recalled the sacrifices rendered by the people and armed forces of Pakistan in the fight against terrorists and praised their resilience. In Feb 2017, Gen John Nicholson, in a briefing told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ties with Pakistan would be a priority in his discussions with US Defence Secretary James Mattis and the White House, which has given little details about its strategy in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
In fact, Trump administration has yet to announce Afghan policy; and policy about Pakistan would be decided in that context. Anyhow, the things are not bad, and there is no need for pessimism. Commander of the United States Central Command (Centcom) General Joseph Votel said India’s policy of ‘diplomatic isolation’ of Pakistan may be a hindrance to improved ties between the two countries. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on the United States Central Command and United States Africa Command, General Votel said: “India’s public policy to ‘diplomatically isolate’ Pakistan hinders any prospects for improved relations.” Pakistan always wished to maintain long-term, multi-faceted and durable strategic ties with the US for the realization of shared objectives. However, Pakistan has taken the position that mutual respect and co-operation at military, intelligence and diplomatic levels should be the hallmark of relations between the two countries.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.