Shahid M Amin
TRUMP’S policy statement on Afghanistan has caused indignation in Pakistan. He accused Pakistan of harbouring sanctuaries from where terrorists were launching attacks on US/NATO troops in Afghanistan. He claimed that US had been “paying billions and billions of dollars” to Pakistan which was “housing the very terrorists we are fighting”. He insisted that this “must change immediately” and issued a threat that Pakistan “has much to lose by continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists.”
Pakistan questions the accuracy of Trump’s accusations. It has been angered by his implied threat of punitive action. We resent Trump’s praise for India’s role in Afghanistan. The facts are that Pakistan has suffered more in war against terrorism than any other country, in terms of human and financial losses. No other country has launched as many successful military operations against terrorists. Much of the “billions of dollars” that Trump mentioned were reimbursement of military expenditure incurred by Pakistan. He was silent about terrorists using Afghan sanctuaries to conduct operations against Pakistan. He made no mention of use of state terror by India to suppress the Kashmiri independence movement where gross violations of human rights are taking place daily in full view of world news media.
After Trump’s statement was debated in parliament and highest echelons of government, including a conference of Pakistani envoys, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif stated that “the world was in a whirlpool and Pakistan needed to readjust its position without any delay. We have no time. Pakistan needs to change its direction swiftly. We are undergoing a seismic shift.” Asif referred to the “unprecedented” geopolitical changes taking place in the world. Such changes were not even witnessed after the Second World War. “New alignments have been made, strategic policies are dictating nations’ interests.” It is not clear as to how Asif has made the claim that the world is in a whirlpool, a seismic shift is taking place and Pakistan has to readjust its position without delay. No doubt, there were two recent instances when geopolitics did change. One was the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 when the Cold War ended. The second was 9/11 and launching of the war against terrorism.
Of course, Pakistan as a sovereign country can make foreign policy choices that it deems fit. But what are the available options? Perhaps the intention is to move away from USA and get closer to China and Russia. But Pakistan already has strong relations with China and any further shift would make us a dependency of China. With Russia, things are improving but it continues to have close relations with India. Russia views Islamist extremism in our region as a direct threat to its own security. Moreover, Russia is not an aid-giving country. Iran has close ties with India and it has concerns about cross-border terrorism from Pakistani soil. Moreover, if Pakistan grows closer to Iran, its important ties with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States could be adversely affected. So there are limitations to how much Pakistan can gain by getting closer to Beijing, Moscow and Tehran.
Foreign policy is a cold-blooded game based on hard calculation of national interests. Emotions and knee-jerk reactions can only be harmful. Pakistan’s national interests today remain the same viz. survival and securing economic benefits. Our main concern always has been search for security vis-à-vis India, a hostile neighbour which is several times bigger than Pakistan in area, population and resources. This has forced Pakistan to look for allies in a bid to balance power. Pakistan joined US-sponsored military pacts in 1950s, not out of any crusading instinct against Communism, but to fortify itself against India. There is much debate about Pakistan’s membership of military pacts. Some analysts hold that Pakistan became a client state of USA, without gaining much in return.
The ground reality was that, prior to joining military pacts, Pakistan’s military vulnerability was so glaring that when war with India loomed in 1951, Ayub Khan reported to Liaquat Ali Khan that he had just 13 tanks to face the might of India. US military and economic aid in 1955-1965, amounting to $4.5 billion, improved both Pakistan’s economy and made it a strong military power, which helped it to hold back India in 1965 War. Our membership of pacts also did not inhibit us from befriending China. Suhrawardy in 1957 and Bhutto in 1963 had predicted that China would help Pakistan in case of an Indian attack. Similarly, relations with Soviet Union improved in 1960s. However, it was always clear that USA saw these pacts as an alliance against Communist aggression: there was never any US commitment to help Pakistan in case of war with India.
Total US military and economic aid to Pakistan since 1948 is about $75 billion, including about $25 billion given since 2002. US economic aid to Pakistan during 2011-2014 was around $ 6 billion. We need to consider realistically how far we can do without US aid. Moreover, the US can harm Pakistan e.g. by encouraging India to adopt a more hostile posture towards Pakistan. The current differences with the US can be resolved through dialogue. We can offer to set up an impartial mechanism to prove there are no sanctuaries for terrorists on Pakistani soil. The onus should be placed on the US to provide evidence that such sanctuaries exist. The US knows well the importance of transit route through Pakistan. It realizes also that Pakistan can facilitate a political dialogue in Afghanistan. Hence, there is room for diplomatic manoeuvring by both sides. Seismic shift might be both premature and harmful.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin