Why the United States and Pakistan need each other



Masood Khan

DESPITE recent turbulence in their relations, the United States and Pakistan need each other because their short-term and long-term interests in the region are bound up. The two countries need to work harder to repair their relationship and bring it back to where it was a year ago. That is a modest goal, but it can arrest the downward spiral in the strained relations and guard against further volatility.
The United States and Pakistan are both democracies. Pakistan is in fact one of the few Muslim countries where democracy is flourishing. Pakistan did not need a colour revolution or a ‘spring’ to start its march towards democracy. It has developed its own culture of democracy evolved through its own national experiences. With Pakistan’s commitment to fundamental freedoms and human rights is transforming its society. Pakistan’s media is one of the freest in the world. Civil society is vocal and the rule of law is taking roots. This enables Pakistan to influence international decision making in regard to peace, security and sustainable development.
The critical importance of the relationship is not lost on either side. Last October, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Barack Obama met at the White House, their joint statement underlined that “… a resilient U.S.-Pakistan partnership is vital to regional and global peace and security and reaffirmed their commitment to address evolving threats in South Asia.”
Both sides have also established that “… a robust, long-term bilateral relationship remains critical to regional and international security and prosperity”. These are not clichés but solemn imperatives.
Pakistan’s economy is not insignificant. This month Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) has included Pakistan in Emerging Markets Index. With this, Pakistan transitions from a frontier economy to an emerging economy. This positive assessment of Pakistan’s economy comes from the US and West, not from Pakistan, on the basis of objective indicators. The implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will further brighten Pakistan’s economic prospects and make is a crucial commercial and economic hub for East, Central, South and South West Asia.
The United States’ avowed interest is to promote peace and stability in South Asia. This objective cannot be realized without Pakistan, whether we are talking about engagement between India and Pakistan, averting a nuclear and conventional race in the region, or working towards peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Pakistan is pivotal in this context; and the US will not be able to bypass Pakistan nor enlist its support through the so-called punitive measures.
The US also needs Pakistan for advancing its agenda on nuclear security and strengthening the UN Security Council Resolution1540 regime. The US in fact is realizing that to succeed in the broader goals of strategic stability in the region, the US, China, India, Pakistan and, at some point, Russia need to work together. The US won’t be able to take Pakistan out of the equation, even if India wants that.
It is not in the interest of the US to see Pakistan through its Indophilia. Whatever steps Pakistan is taking are meant to secure its eastern and western flanks and safeguard its sovereignty and independence. It is therefore absolutely necessary that the US ceases drone strikes in Pakistan. These strikes, as the US would know, incense and alienate the population of Pakistan and whip up anti-US sentiment. The US had been using this grey area created by the dithering and connivance of some influential Pakistani individuals in the past. But now the signals are clear: no more drone strikes. This clarity should start a new era of mutual trust. Washington has its lingering, nagging mistrust of Pakistan. And Pakistan too has its misgivings – with the F-16 deal reverse, the Naushki drone strike, and the US passionately advocating India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group because of political expediency.
Pakistan too needs a strong relationship with the US. True, it has very strong ties with China, but it relations with both the countries are not mutually exclusive. We should learn from China, which has demonstrated that you can have differences with the United States and yet it would pursue a strong strategic and economic dialogue to promote interdependence and win-win cooperation. Pakistan’s foreign policy, or for that matter of any mature nation, is all about balance. China also wants that Pakistan’s relations with the US should be stable and it should continue to explore peace with India (and of course India should engage with us).
Pakistan and the US have decided to “expand the bilateral relationship in areas outside the traditional security realm” to “trade and investment; education, science and technology; clean, efficient and affordable energy; efforts to counter climate change; economic growth; regional integration ….” Progress in all these areas is primarily in Pakistan’s interest.
For the modernization of Pakistan’s economy as well as for access to advanced technologies, we should continue to benefit from the US-led western world. It goes without saying that the US does have influence with the international financial institutions and Pakistan would rely on their support for some time to come. Our chambers of commerce and industry continue to work closely because Pakistan requires to be on a fast learning curve in regard to networking for enhancing trade and entrepreneurial opportunities. The US is a facilitator for Pakistan’s participation in the Global Connect Initiative to use to the Internet more productively. Besides, our exposure to the US would also enable us to create more “Smart Universities” through enhanced Wi-Fi broad access.
To launch a knowledge economy, thousands of Pakistani graduates should be enrolling in American and Western universities for doctoral and postdoctoral studies especially. Our Vision 2025 and the US-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor create that interface, but the scale of our collaboration is meagre. As we realize our ambition to take our economy to a higher level, we must secure placement in the core disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
In the coming years, the US-Pakistan relations will always remain vulnerable because of he enormous influence in Washington of the 3.5 million strong Indian American community, whose members have moved into key positions in the Administration, Congress, financial institutions and think tanks. Pakistan too has a potential equalizer, albeit asymmetric, in its prosperous and well placed diaspora community, whose number may range between 700,000 to 1 million. This asset needs to be developed. China, India, Israel and many European countries have demonstrated how their communities’ strengths can be leveraged. Thankfully, the US system is open to such activity which is considered quite legitimate under its constitution, laws and political system.
No matter what we say, the US-India and the US-Pakistan relationship has been a zero sum game, 1995 onward. Since then, India’s gain has been Pakistan’s loss. And now India’s clout in Washington is unprecedented, second only to Israel’s. Pakistan needn’t be daunted by this challenge. It too has its own niche which can be developed with ingenuity. The US, for its part, should conduct a review to assess the intended and unintended consequences of its policy and posture towards Pakistan.
— (The writer is former Ambassador to the UN and China. He also worked in Pakistan Embassy in Washington from 1997 to 2002)

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