Problems in US-Pakistan ties
SHUJA Nawaz in his latest book “Battle for Pakistan” equates the US-Pakistan relationship to “an estranged couple that shares the same bed but dreams different dreams.
” The transactional nature of the relationship has received a good deal of debate both in the intellectual domain and the cabinet of diplomates.
With fast-changing geopolitics, the US and Pakistan have discrete interests in convergent realms that can be difficult for both countries to build amicable relations.
The US is deemed an unreliable partner that often leaves Pakistan in the lurch while China is considered a geographical reality given its geographical proximity to play a paramount role in the strategic stability of the region.
Pakistan’s growing nexus with China is a cause of concern for the US, so it has diluted Pakistan’s importance to be an ally to meet new challenges of great power competition.
DS Markey writes in an article “Behind China’s Gambit in Pakistan” that “new geopolitical nexus between Pakistan and China was seen a threat by Washington which did not want to lose leverage over its long-term South Asian ally.”
Another problem is India’s security cooperation with the US. It may be difficult for Pakistan to establish relationship with a country that feeds the very source of instability in the region.
Despite the fact that the US supports human rights, self-determination, fundamental freedom and democracy across the world, it has brushed aside India’s flagrant human rights abuse and its denial of inalienable rights of self-determination to Kashmiris.
India violated the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir by absorbing IIOJK, yet the US neither criticizes it nor does it coerce India to cease its systemic repression in Kashmir.
Thus, it has created an unbridgeable chasm between Pakistan and the US. Moreover, the US has established relations with Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan.
Zahid Hussain in his book “No-Win War: The Paradox of US-Pakistan Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow” mentions that the US administration often “saw relations with Pakistan from a purely Afghan prism.
” The crisis-based relationship has not only narrowed the spectrum of bilateral engagement but it has also created mistrust between both countries.
Zahid Hussain further says, “perhaps the biggest confusion among various US departments had been over whether Pakistan was to be treated as a friend or as an adversary. ”
What drives Pakistan to establish relations with great powers are its economic and strategic compulsions.
Given the chronic economic instability of the country, Pakistan has been in quest of an economic benefactor that may help it in the time of economic crunch.
The US has either directly granted economic aids, grants and loans to Pakistan or through leveraging global economic institutions such as the World Bank or the IMF.
But the economic help has not been bereft of strings. In this regard, Shuja Nawaz writes that the “US foreign aid became primarily a tool for foreign policy, not development policy in recipient nations.
” Equally important, seeking the support of great powers to resolve the Kashmir dispute has been a central plank of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Nevertheless, great powers have been very circumspect regarding Kashmir dispute because an unresolved issue may facilitate them to get either India or Pakistan to be a linchpin for their geopolitical ambitions.
In brief, great power competition and their regional strategic interests have made Kashmir a geopolitical prisoner.
Given the power asymmetry between Pakistan and India, the former has been in search for an ally which may guarantee the regional strategic balance.
Therefore, the US and China are sought after to be Pakistan’s strategic partners, but the growing animosity between both countries will compress time and space for Pakistan to make a strategic choice between both powers or pursue a delicate balancing act without any damage to its relations with either of the two great powers.
Recently, Shahbaz Sharif government appears to be engaging with the US officials in order to reset the bilateral relations which was damaged due to alleged interference of the US to oust the government of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Although there has been some positive gesture from Washington to mend ties with Islamabad, this is due to the fact that India’s lukewarm response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
It has created tension between India and the western countries; therefore, the US has wanted to engage with Pakistan with the view to sending a signal to India.
Nevertheless, the US will not be Pakistan’s long-term partner given global geopolitical landscape where China’s rise is considered a threat to the US hegemony.
Against this backdrop, the US in its new “National Security Strategy 2022” didn’t mention Pakistan in its future security strategy.
It means that Pakistan is no longer in the US security calculus. However, Pakistan’s emphasis to be delinked from Afghanistan and India in the US policy strategy appears to have its merits because it enables both countries to establish separate relationship which does not involve crises.
But the US gives more priority to its security and geopolitical allies than economic or diplomatic partners.
Yet, Pakistan cannot be divorced from the US future policies. Transnational terrorism, instability in Afghanistan, climate change, regional tension, and nuclear weapons in a volatile strategic environment are primary concerns of the US.
President Joe Biden in his address to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reception said that Pakistan may be “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” because of the country’s “nuclear weapons without any cohesion”.
The US President’s remarks would have damaging impact on the evolving relationship with Pakistan.
Nonetheless, neither the US distances itself from Pakistan nor does it engage with the country by virtue of shifting geopolitical sands in the world.
—The writer is a strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst.