Tuesday, November 29, 2011

US-PAK relations: Dec 2011

Anti-Americanism was high in the mid nineties among the Pakistanis. I was a student of economics and politics at Leeds. The university was awash with young Islamists who saw the Western civilization as an imperialistic exploiter and conspirator against the Muslim countries. USA was specially singled out as the arch enemy having installed puppet governments in Muslim countries and suppressing the Muslims masses through them.

I decided to investigate. Luckily, I was offered a one year module "US in the World" under Dr Christine Margerum Harlen, and I chose the USA-Pakistan relationship from 1947 to 1997 as my assessment essay. I did not disgrace myself, or so it seemed at the time. 

I could not find any conspiracy in the conduct of US foreign policy towards Pakistan and concluded that in 1997 the US policy had the following major aims in Pakistan, namely:
  • Countering terrorism
  • Stopping narcotics trade
  • Controlling immigration
  • Expanding democracy
  • Countering nuclear proliferation
  • Promoting regional peace and trade (i.e. to keep India and Pakistan away from war) 
I have lost the manuscript of the essay but its structure was to divide the US foreign policies towards Pakistan under each President and to find out the reasons for such policies in the international context, leadership preferences and biases, domestic compulsions in both countries and fate!

Pakistan, at its inception, did not get good press and was seen as an anachronistic state and the preference in the USA was for relations with India. It was the Eisenhower policy of building alliances to share the economic cost of the cold war that saw Pakistan's importance rise in the USA as the Indians had taken a non-aligned stance. The Kennedy years were marked by Kennedy's bias towards India and that had the pivotal effect of Pakistan looking towards China! Lyndon Johnson remained preoccupied with Vietnam and that combined with the civil rights movement in the USA etc meant an off and on relationship with Pakistan then under a military ruler. This frustrated both Pakistan and the USA! USA had given the weaponry to Pakistan for use against the communist enemy but Pakistan had taken it for use against India! USA law prohibited supplies to the countries engaged in wars, but the1965 war happened! Pakistanis got bitter as US stopped supplies. Nixon and Kissinger did not quite like Indira Gandhi and admired Bhutto more, and used  Pakistan's closeness with China to their advantage. This could have been a golden period for both countries but Mr Bhutto could not take advantage presumably because of his socialistic credentials.Pakistan's nuclear initiative triggered American sanctions and a further deterioration of relations resulted. Reagan and Zia era was saw a resurgence of warmth in relations thanks mainly to the hot conflict in Afghanistan in the Cold War to mutual benefit of both countries. The collapse of the USSR and the fall of Berlin Wall pushed US to follow more mundane goals in foreign policy as identified above.

That, it seems, remained the case until nine eleven. The need to invade and occupy Afghanistan brought US close to Pakistan again.

The USA policy makers maintain that they do not have any realpolitik aims in Afghanistan and that they want to help Afghanistan become a stable country presumably through the proven formula of democracy and free markets and by limiting the role of the Taliban and al Qaeeda.

If that be so, the question arises does the US still need Pakistan the same way as it did immediately after nine  eleven? Probably not.

USA should be keen to pull out of Afghanistan as the ostensible US goals in Afghanistan 'now' are rather altruistic. And, it may be that given the weakening economy USA is seeking to share and/or lower the cost/price either through exit or bringing in more partners. Such partners, it seems, are not forthcoming, thus exit seems a plausible option.

Throw in the 2012 re-election bid of Barrack Obama and the complexity of the issue increases even more.

To summarize US policy makers do not have any strategic goals in Afghanistan, their economy is down, and the president faces re-election. The ideal policy would be get out of Afghanistan. That would salvage the economy; a feel good factor for the domestic electors; and USA could hope to pay Afghanistan enough in the hope of achieving its objectives.

All else being equal, what does the USA policy constraints mean for the policy towards Pakistan?

It would be fair to say that since USA needs to exit therefore its policy towards Pakistan would either revert back to pre-nine eleven days if Pakistan does not factor in the exit strategy or may become more entrenched if Pakistan becomes a part of the exit plan.

The events of Memogate and the NATO attack killing Pakistani soldiers on 26 November 2011, may point that Pakistan is not part of the exit plan and hence USA and Pakistan will revert to pre-nine eleven relationship status, all else being equal.

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