Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an elaborate statement on US national security and foreign policy priorities before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. She highlighted five priorities. One of which related to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. She asked for funds to sustain “our vital national security missions” in these three countries. For Pakistan, specifically there was just one sentence: “Next door, we have a challenging but critical relationship with Pakistan, and we remain committed to working on issues of joint interest, including counterterrorism, economic stability and regional cooperation.” Her demand for all the State Department and US AID programmes amounted to $51.6 billion. For Iraq, $4.8 billion (last year’s budget for Iraq was $48 billion!). Her concluding words: “This country (USA) is an unparalleled force for good in the world, and we all want to make sure it stays that way. So, I would urge you to work with us to make this investment in strong American leadership and the more peaceful and prosperous future that I believe will result.”
As for Afghanistan, after 11 years of war fought with the state-of-the-art arms, and after so many killings and destruction of property, can the US claim that they have successfully achieved their objectives? Propping up a tainted leader heading the government whose writ does not go beyond Kabul and after spending hundreds of billions of dollars, have the poorly armed Afghan Taliban been defeated or tamed? Isn’t it ironic that Washington finds itself forced to talk to them to ensure a seemingly honourable exit from the occupied country? Isn’t the democracy clamped there a mere farce? Isn’t lawlessness the order of the day in this war-ravaged country? Will its people ever forget the despicable act of American soldiers urinating on the dead bodies of Afghan jihadis and the way copies of the Holy Quran have been burnt by them?
And now a little about the “US commitment to working on issues of joint interest with Pakistan, including counterterrorism, economic stability and regional cooperation.”
I will not go into details about the illegal drone attacks exceeding 300 strikes by now, which has caused the death of thousands of civilians, along with a few targeted terrorists. Nor about the May 2 Abbottabad operation, the earlier Raymond Davis episode, or even the deliberate killing of two dozen of our soldiers at Salalah. I might, however, mention the much-trumpeted Kerry-Lugar Act that promised $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan for five years, riddled as it was, with humiliating conditions directly compromising our sovereign rights to take appropriate decisions in regard to our internal management. And in spite of our NRO-tainted federal government kowtowing to American dictation, what have we so far received and how and through which channels has the money been given? One may recall the sweet noises Madam Clinton made during one of her visits to win hearts and minds of the Pakistani people and convince them of the generosity Uncle Sam was showering on us. The small amount actually received may well be seen in the light of hundreds of billions of dollars spent yearly in Afghanistan and Iraq. Add to such calculations, the cost of Pakistan’s involvement in the American-started war on terror. More than 35,000 Pakistani civilians killed. 5,000 military personnel losing their lives. And our economy suffering a loss of $60 billion.
Madam Clinton’s recent threat of dire consequences for Pakistan if it goes ahead with the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project has been rightly addressed by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. “We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan.” Brave words, indeed! One only hopes that our otherwise weak and vulnerable government will not later succumb to mounting pressure from Washington. Already we have wasted a lot of time in finalising the agreements for the supply of gas (and electricity) from Iran and the pace of implementation has been much too slow. Khar’s statement is unequivocal: “All of these projects are in Pakistan’s national interest, and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous considerations.” The opposition in Pakistan should welcome the stand and strengthen the hands of the government. Already there has been a reiteration of Hillary’s warning shot. Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokesperson, in answer to a journalist has stated: “Well I don’t think what the Secretary said was appreciably different from what we have been saying for weeks and weeks…….on this subject…….And we would just encourage them to think twice about aligning themselves with an unreliable partner…….we have a variety of sanctions on the books…….which is you know among the reasons why we think this is a bad idea and hope it doesn’t move forward.”
The question of resetting US-Pakistan relations after the Salalah slaughter has been hanging fire for quite some time. A Parliamentary Committee, headed by Raza Rabbani, is seized of the matter. Washington has been anxiously waiting for the new terms of engagement and has been asking Islamabad to finalise the process expeditiously. Already it has been revealed that Nato supplies by air were never halted and these are continuing non-stop. On February 29, a high-level meeting on the Pak-US relations was held at the presidency, chaired by Mr Zardari and attended by Prime Minister, Chief of the Army Staff, Foreign Minister and our new Ambassador to USA. Foreign Minister Khar is reported to have briefed those present of what had transpired in her recent meeting with the US Secretary of State in London. Ambassador Sherry Rehman, too, provided her assessment of the current thinking in Washington on US relations with Pakistan. Notice was also taken of Hillary’s threat about Pakistan’s gas pipeline project agreement with Iran. It is time the “foot-dragging” stops and the US-Pakistan relations are thoroughly debated in Parliament to hammer out a policy which takes into consideration hard realities and is based on mutual interest and respect for each other.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.