Monday, August 13, 2007

USA-Pakistan relations: 1960s revisited?

The recent tension in the US-Pakistan relations can be detrimental to Pakistan. Pakistani policy makers should not allow US-Indian strategic relationship to dictate its foreign policy.

The early 1960s saw a deterioration in US-Pakistan relations. This coincided with John F. Kennedy becoming the US President. Mr. Kennedy had a soft corner for India and wanted to make India the strategic partner of the US in the region. The US rapprochement with India was seen in Pakistan as a betrayal as the Pakistani establishment believed in a zero-sum game at that time vis-à-vis Pakistan i.e. one’s gain was perceived to be other’s loss. The change in US policy also hurt Pakistan as it had allied itself totally with the US in its cold war against the Soviet Union. Pakistan had joined Baghdad Pact, SEATO and CENTO and had risked USSR’s wrath as opposed to India which in Pakistani establishments view was only non-allied on surface and was indeed in Soviet camp.

The Kennedy administration’s tilt towards India resulted in a far-reaching change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistanis felt cheated and frustrated at the change of mode in Washington. In a series of reactions the Pakistani establishment made important decisions including to bolster its ties with China and later on to take on India in the 1965. It will be worthwhile to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of those reactionary decisions. Here it will suffice to say that Pakistan was wrong to allow Mr. Kennedy’s sympathetic approach towards India, which was against the grain of the US foreign policy, to dictate its foreign policy. At that time the correct approach would have been to see through the Kennedy anomaly in the US foreign policy. However, Pakistan being a new state its leadership can be forgiven for taking a myopic view of the situation. It’s a moot question that whether or not Pakistan could have benefited like Western Europe, Japan and South Korea if it had resisted the temptation to react to the American fling with India.

We are once again at similar crossroads: The USA is once again having a fling with the Indians and Pakistan is once again faced with a dilemma of how to react. I chose the word fling deliberately because of the tendency in the USA of not liking countries who claim cultural superiority over it, which India certainly does have and will claim sooner or later, thus, leading to deterioration of their relationship. Furthermore, India as a whole is not ready to become a US strategic partner. Indian national aspirations are not in consonance with those of the Americans. Their world views are different and so are their cultures. Sooner or later, Indians are going to part their ways with the Americans as history foretells.

Pakistan is again showing signs of reactionary foreign policy. Some such decisions can be interpreted as contrary to the US interests. Simultaneously, there have been signs of hostile use of language on both sides between USA and Pakistan. The anti-American sentiment is apparently growing in the establishment and the people. The question is what is to be done?

In statecraft, the most important virtue is self-preservation. Realpolitik considerations demands a pro-American or at least an independent policy which should not be in conflict with vital US interests for the simple reason that the USA has the firepower to damage, disintegrate or destroy us and we do not have a reciprocal ability. We neither have the sea power to threaten the American coastline nor the air-power to reach the USA mainland. If we did, there might have been a case for anti-American foreign policy but since we do not so let us be friends!

Pakistan and the USA had far more in common and our temporary deviations towards other countries should not make us abandon each other. Our relationship has benefited both since our inception 1947. On the Pakistani side, we were the most allied ally of the USA in the cold war and opened up China for it and helped in the disintegration of the USSR. Remember the U2 incident or the Afghan resistance against the Soviets and the on-going war on terror in which Pakistan has paid and is still paying dearly with blood and resources? On the American side, Pakistan has received much economic, technological, military, diplomatic and social sector support. Many Pakistanis live and work in the USA. It was the USA which insured Pakistan’s survival against India in the early years and helped in building Pakistan’s armed forces. These things should not be under-estimated or neglected. The American friendship has helped us more than we give it credit for.

Both our countries are modernistic in the sense we have both shun the old cultures: USA shunned the European eighteenth century values and Pakistanis shunned the old Indian culture of castes. On lighter side, both our people are consumption oriented and love their capitalisms. Both are vane, arrogant and easily become reactive because of their newness on the world stage. Both our countries have much to offer to each other and this is not a time for going our separate ways. It will hurt both and perhaps more to the disadvantage of Pakistan.

The apparent strain in relations between the USA and Pakistan should be avoided at all costs. The USA will dominate the twenty first century. Pakistan should stay on its side. Pakistan has endured the costs of sustaining the relationship and now when the time is ripe for getting benefits, it is once again marching off in some other direction. The correct approach is to see others through and making the relationship resilient enough to survive temporary mode swings.

The US must also start to give credit to its allies for their past friendship. It is very well to think that old ties do not matter in foreign affairs and it is the current national interest which should determine foreign policy, however, if all the great empires of the past are analysed, then it transpires that they have stood by their allies merely to reward loyalty. This is what moral authority and leadership is about which the USA lacks and the lack of which makes the USA an object of hate for those who feel used and cheated. On a more pragmatic note, the Americans will be wrong to put all their eggs in the Indian basket. The Indians are too big and proud to be America's proxy in the region. The Indian nationalism is strong and is certain to effect the US-Indian relations. Lastly, if the basis for the US conflict with Asiatic societies (read China) is the difference in cultures i.e. the Americans are egalitarian and the Asiatic societies authoritarian and hence incompatible then the same should apply to the US-India relations. Indian culture traditionally has been far more authoritarian than other Asiatic societies and the assumption of incompatibility with the USA should apply to it more than it does to others.

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