Pak-US ties beyond security prism
PAKISTAN and the United States relations have always been viewed through the security lens.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s geostrategic location and its ideological contours combined play a significant role in establishing relationships between the two countries.
Pakistan became the closest ally of the US against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and later in the war against terrorism but the growing trust deficit and unrealistic expectations led to a widening gap in actual relations.
Despite Pakistan’s unmatchable losses in the war against terrorism, the US treated Pakistan as a guilty party and viewed its role with suspicion.
India received exceptional favours from the US at the cost of the increasing geostrategic and security concerns for Pakistan.
Most recently, the Taliban comeback to power in Afghanistan, the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from the country and Pakistan’s close cooperation with China subjected Pakistan to US unduly criticism.
This not only harmed the relations at government levels but also affected public perceptions which are not in the interest of both countries.
Beginning from a security partnership, however, the scope of cooperation expanded to science and technology, education, economy and people-to-people contact.
Such cooperation in non-traditional arena actsis often neglected, or perhaps, poorly projected by both countries.
Contrarily, the divergence on the complex security issues, Afghanistan and now the China factor, has overshadowed their relationships wherein the negative propaganda particularly by Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, has played a devil’s role.
There was a need to brush aside the so-called myths associated with Pak-US relations, scholars from both sides while acknowledging the trust gaps, emphasized the importance of increasing people-to-people contacts and interactions between the academia.
The two-day conference on the 75 Years of US-Pakistan relations organized by Area Study Center Quaid-i-Azam University in collaboration with the US Embassy in Islamabad on 14-15, September 2022, was a step in this regard.
In line with the conference theme, Dr. Sadia Sulaiman, an Assistant Professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, raised important points during a session on the future trajectory of Pak-US relations that a shift in the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the US is the need of the hour as too much focus on security, third-party burden, and lack of bilateral thrust in Pak-US relations is making the relationship inconsistent.
So, both Pakistan and the US need to work on replacing the traditional security paradox as it provides less room for compromises.
Contrarily, there is always a scope for expanding cooperation to socio-economic and cultural interests which both countries have worked on in the past too.
Clarity in the relationship is essentially required for sustained relationships which Dr. Hassan Abbas, a distinguished Professor of International Relations in the US has stressed upon.
Another important intervention that Dr. Abbas made is that the relationship needs to be delinked with India and China factors that ultimately provide enough to both Pakistan and the US to focus on the communities in value, ethics and perspectives despite asymmetries prevalent since inception.
For that particular reason, Ambassador Nadeem Riyaz, President of the Institute of Regional Studies, proposed a structured high-level dialogue, media exchange programs and training of journalists for a positive narrative in both countries.
Also need to work on promoting cultural diplomacy, trade, investment, public-private partnership, climate cooperation, education and gender empowerment. More importantly, if the US wants to improve cultural relations, it is imperative to make the visa process easy.
The future trajectory of relations should be set on mutual respect and understanding through valuing bilateral relations and continuity in mutually beneficial and considerate engagement.
The writer is a Research Analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies and a Ph.D. Scholar at Area Study Center, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.