Washington still needs Islamabad
Pak-US ties have been like a roller coaster — tumultuous, tempestuous and alternating between highs and lows. United States of America was one of the first countries to have established diplomatic ties with Pakistan, which dates back to 20 October 1947. Most analysts view the relationship as transactional.
Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was facing a dilemma because in the formative years of Pakistan’s existence, he had received invitations from both the USA and the Soviet Union for state visits. He embarked on a visit to USA to meet President Harry S Truman from 3 to 26 May 1950, where he was afforded a warm welcome.
It is alleged that President Truman requested the Pakistani premier to let CIA establish a base in Pakistan to keep an eye on the activities of Soviet Union. According to declassified papers of the US government, the US demanded Pakistan to use its influence in Tehran and persuade it to transfer control of its oil fields to the US. The Pakistani premier turned down both demands. Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated by an Afghan assassin on 16 October 1951 while Mohammad Mosaddeq, the prime minister of Iran, was deposed in a military coup d’état on 19 August 1953. Declassified US government papers indicate a US role in both events.
It is time to recalibrate Pak-US ties. By now the US should have realised that Pakistan is no pushover
With Liaquat Ali Khan out of the way, in May 1954, Pakistan signed Mutual Assistance Agreement with the US. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower requested Prime Minister Suhrawardy to lease Peshawar air base for keeping an eye on Soviet Union and its ballistic missile program.
On 1st May 1960, US spy plane U-2, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, was shot down in Soviet air space. The incident caused a severe diplomatic crisis since Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev put a red circle around Peshawar and threatened Pakistan with dire consequences for allowing the use of its territory to spy on the USSR.
Pakistan’s military dictator General Ayub Khan hurriedly asked the US to wind up is surveillance program from Pakistan.
During the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars, despite being a US ally through its military pacts of SEATO and CENTO, the US did not come to Pakistan’s aid but to rub salt in our wounds, sanctioned both India and Pakistan and levied arms embargo despite the fact that India received all its weapons from the Soviet Union and none from the US.
In 1971, Pakistan helped bring about a rapprochement between China and the USA, enabling the clandestine visit of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Beijing, preceding US President Richard Nixon’s state visit to meet Chairman Mao Zedong and establish diplomatic ties between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America.
President Carter of USA sought a ban on nuclear weapons while Henry Kissinger warned the Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that a “horrible example will be made of him unless he gave up research and development of nuclear weapons.” Bhutto declined and paid with his life, when he was deposed in a military coup d’état and later hanged on a trumped up charge.
Zia-ul-Haq the military dictator was initially treated like a pariah but when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan became a frontline state and a training ground for Jihadists from the Muslim Ummah. In that period Pakistan became the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel. Turning a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program, various US presidents kept providing waivers to Pakistan despite knowledge of its nuclear prowess.
In 1990, after the retreat of the Red Army from Afghanistan, since Pakistan’s strategic importance diminished, Pressler Amendment was invoked; resultantly sanctions were imposed and even those weapon systems, including 28 F-16 Falcon fighter aircraft, for which Pakistan had paid hard cash for, were embargoed.
In 1998, Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in retaliation to similar tests by India. President Clinton imposed further sanctions under Glenn Amendment. Pakistan remained in the doghouse and conditions worsened with the military takeover by General Musharraf in 1999.
9/11 attacks and US-led invasion of Afghanistan to eradicate militancy once again turned Pakistan into one of the most important strategic allies of the US.
Pakistan’s $1 billion worth of loans were written off by the US, which it had granted in a goodwill gesture and appreciation for Pakistan’s cooperation. In 2004, President George W. Bush officially declared Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally, granting it the authority to purchase strategic and advanced military equipment.
When US plans in Afghanistan started turning awry, it turned upon Pakistan and launched drone strikes on the north western side of the country. Large civilian deaths in collateral damage caused much opposition in Pakistan.
US criticism of Pakistan reached their lowest ebb in the bilateral ties in 2011. In January, Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor based in Pakistan shot and killed two Pakistani civilians in Lahore in broad daylight. A third was crushed to death by a US Consulate coming to rescue Raymond Davis. Top secret documents pertaining to Pakistan’s sensitive installations were recovered from Raymond Davis after his arrest. The matter was diffused only after blood money was paid to the relatives of those slain.
On 2nd May, US navy SEALs conducted a clandestine raid at a house on Abbottabad and decimated the al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. A war of accusations followed; Pakistan reproving the US of desecrating its sanctity while the US indicted Pakistan for allegedly harbouring the al Qaeda chief.
Worse was yet to come, on 25th November; US forces attacked a Pakistani military check-post at Salala near the Pak-Afghan border in which 25 Pakistani soldiers and officers were martyred. Pakistan retaliated by closing the Ground Lines of Communication for logistic support to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, seeking a formal apology from the US. Pakistan also asked the US forces to vacate its strategic air base at Shamsi in Balochistan, from where CIA was operating drone strikes. The stalemate continued till early 2012 when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rendered an apology.
US forces in Afghanistan were drawn down by December 2015 apart from about 14,000 Special Forces and trainers. Views on achieving peace in Afghanistan have differed in Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan has been in the crosshairs of US lawmakers for over a decade. US State Department as well as Pentagon are making Pakistan a scapegoat for their own failures. Despite massive aerial strikes, excessive ground operations and the deployment of over 130,000 military personnel in the Afghan theatre of war, US led international forces in Afghanistan failed to create even a dent in the Taliban’s war making capacity.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has concluded that over the past year, the Taliban have increased the amount of territory they control. Opium production has reached an all-time high; corruption continues to plague an Afghan government of doubtful legitimacy and effectiveness. For a war now in its 17th year, the United States has precious little to show, despite having lost over 2,400 of its own soldiers and expending an estimated trillion dollars.
Yet not only does the US accuse Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, President Donald Trump has stopped all military aid to Pakistan and is constantly threatening it of drastic repercussions unless it ends its alleged duplicity.
Indictment of Pakistan in the realm of playing a double game does not hold water. Leon Panetta, in his book Worthy Fights admits that as CIA Director he was aware of TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud’s whereabouts but chose not to strike him down as long as he was targeting Pakistan. It was only when he turned his sights on US assets that he was eliminated. Bob Woodward in Obama’s Wars, Steve Coll in Ghost Wars, Hillary Clinton in her book Hard Choices and Robert Gates in Duty have expressed similar sentiments yet it is Pakistan, which is in the dock.
It is time to recalibrate Pak-US ties. By now the US should have realised that Pakistan is no pushover. It can neither be destabilised to become a basket case, nor can it be fragmented into smaller states. Pakistan is a different cup of tea from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria. Its people are resilient, its armed forces battle hardened in the war on terror, its nuclear assets well preserved.
Foggy Bottom must give due respect to Islamabad and consider it as part of the solution, rather than the problem. The elusive peace in Afghanistan can only be reached with the whole hearted participation of Pakistan.