From 1947, the dynamics of US-Pakistan relations have been decided behind closed doors. The military and intelligence officials have been calling the shots, not the political leaders or the career diplomats.
Thus, what is said in public between the two countries is often contradicted in private by their actions. And what is agreed to in private between them is denied in front of the public. The euphemism that governs their relationship is “plausible deniability.”
The relationship has been beset by misunderstandings from the beginning. The US signed defense treaties with Pakistan to support its Cold War objectives. Pakistan took those treaties to mean that the US would help ward off an Indian attack or to help it wrest Kashmir from India.
During the 1965 war with India, US President Johnson suspended military aid to Pakistan, much to President Ayub’s astonishment. A disappointed and broken man, Ayub titled his autobiography, “Friends not Masters.”In 1970, General Yahya, Ayub’s successor, brokered the breakthrough in US-China ties. When war broke out with India in 1971, he seriously thought that the US would come to the rescue. However, all the US did was that it moved the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal.
Once in a while, US-Pakistan relations have converged, as they did during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when Ronald Reagan and General Zia were at the helm.
Surveying the history of US-Pakistan ties from 1947-2000, US diplomat Dennis Kux entitled his book “Disenchanted Allies.” In 2013, Ambassador Husain Haqqani, shortly after he resigned from his post in Washington, wrote on “Magnificent Delusions.”
The ebb and flow of US-Pakistan relations occupy the first-half of Journalist Ronan Farrow’s book,”War on Peace.” Farrow worked in the State Department during 2009-12 on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
While researching the book, he interviewed every living former US secretary of state, including Rex Tillerson, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton, retired generals, senior diplomats, and other civil servants.
The book is largely an elegy to the waning influence of the US State Department in developing the US foreign policy.Physically, the State Department is located in Foggy Bottom, a neighbourhood in Washington, DC which is shrouded by the morning mist that rises from the Potomac River.
Just as India is turning towardss the US, Pakistan is turning towards Russia and deepening ties with “all-weather friend,” China.
Today, in an unusual way, that name has come to symbolize the waning influence of the State Department. Its influence on US policy is foggy and at the bottom.
Foreign policy is made in the White House and carried out by the CIA and the Pentagon. The results are dismal. Colin Powell concluded that the Iraq War was “a massive strategic failure both politically and militarily.” Richard Holbrooke concluded that the Afghan War was just a repeat of Vietnam. Even Henry Kissinger conceded that both the wars were failures.
To gather materials for the book, Farrow reached out to a former head of the ISI, Lt.-Gen. Pasha who declined to comment saying that he did not want to speak half-truths and could not speak the whole truth. Earlier, Pasha had told Haqqani to deny that Pakistan had any ties to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Farrow’s view is that the ISI is paying reporters to “write favorable stories … as insurance they won’t write harsh ones.” A uniformed consensus is being drilled into the press.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden told Farrow that he knew Pakistan’s ISI was killing journalists but while that”may affect my overall view of ISI…it doesn’t affect my working with ISI to try and capture” terrorists.Hayden said he was in no position to influence the government of Pakistan. That would have to occur through diplomatic and political levers.
US Ambassador Robin Raphel focused on having a dialogue with the Taliban, not on changing Pakistan’s strategic culture. Thus, she prioritized maintaining informal back channels to Pakistani military and intelligence officials over everything else. For that, she was labelled Lady Taliban by her critics.
Three major events in the US-Pakistan relations are mentioned in the book. The first one is General Zia’s plane crash. Also killed in the crash were the US ambassador and its military attaché. Farrow says the crash remains one of the biggest mysteries in Pakistani history. But he presents no new evidence on what caused the crash, or why the US did not send the FBI to investigate the death of two prominent Americans. Perhaps the US thought it was best to look the other way lest the rapprochement with Gorbachev was put at risk.
Farrow asked Robin, who was the divorced wife of the US ambassador, how she felt about losing Arnold. With “a small brittle laugh,”she said “It would be difficult for anyone but life goes on,” and dropped the topic.
The second major event is the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Again, the well-known events are related but no new insight provided. Why was she killed? Who killed her? Did General Musharraf fail to provide for her security?
The third major event is the US raid which killed Osama bin Laden. Once again, Farrow narrates the events narrated without shedding any new light. Did the Pakistani military know about the US raid in advance? Was the military complicit in giving sanctuary to Osama?
The attack caused irreparable harm to US-Pakistan relations. Says Farrow, “If the Raymond Davis incident brought the US-Pakistan relationship to its knees, this one slammed it, face first, to the curb.”
It also destroyed the career of the Pakistani ambassador to the US. It all began with an op-ed that appeared in the Financial Times by a US businessman of Pakistani descent. It referred to a memo which a Pakistani diplomat had allegedly written to the head of the US military, asking for his assistance in stopping an imminent coup. The resulting affair became known as “memo-gate,” tarnished Haqqani’s reputation, forced him to resign and to return home to face sedition charges.
The US believes that Pakistan supports terrorism because, as Admiral Mullen told Congress, “it is part of their national strategy.” Relations have worsened during the Trump Administration.
Just as India is turning toward the US, Pakistan is turning toward Russia and deepening ties with “all-weather friend,” China.But it is worth remembering that China, like the US, did not come to its aid in 1971. And both China and Russia oppose state-sponsored terrorism.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, May 26th 2018.