Just three years ago, US-Pakistan ties were dipping the lowest with the harshest of allegations from the US against the Pakistan army and its prime spy agency ISI. Here, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen, was lambasting ISI for having links with elements bent to harm American interests in Afghanistan; and there, the Centcom chief General James Mattis was demeaning Pakistan’s faculties to resist and combat the onslaughts of terrorists despite the Pak army winning military laurels in Swat, Bajaur and Orakzai.
The US media too, ambitiously came forward ostensibly in the race to criticize Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal in an opinion piece in April 2011 went as far as to propose that Pakistan needed to be given an ultimatum of the kind it was given immediately after 9/11.
Now, the scene has changed. Some faces are also changed, and so are the ground realities and offensives. The new Centcom chief General Lloyd Austin is praising Pakistan army’s committed fight against terrorism. Lt. General Joseph Anderson, a senior commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has also signalled a thumbs up.
However, it is still too early to claim if this warmth from the US for General Raheel and his team proves watershed in the sixty seven years of soured relations between the two countries. Time will tell whether the latest commitments between the Pentagon and Rawalpindi wear off the opaque veneer of distrust, or if this is only a short lull earned to exploit each other’s positions.
Take history as a witness, and you will not be dodged into delusion. The pages of the past transpire that relations between two countries have been symbiotic; America, being cognisant of the importance of Pakistan’s geo-strategic location, has had its motives, and Pakistan, too has been presenting itself in order to extract economic and military support.
Even Quaid-e-Azam was well aware of Pakistan’s strategic indispensability in conflicting regional zones. Giving an interview to ‘Life’ magazine, he uttered with panache: “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” and that “Pakistan is the pivot of the world.”
Being mindful of this reality of the locale where Pakistan exists, the US has always sought Pakistan’s help to accomplish its strategic ambitions both in cold war and post-9/11 eras. It is said that US president Truman requested Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan to let the CIA formulate a base in Pakistan so as to keep an eye on the Soviet Union. The request was granted later in 1956 by the Prime Minister, Suharwardi. Under the agreement, Peshawar Air Station was leased to the American army for keeping an eye on the ballistic missile programme of the Soviet Union. In 1954, Pakistan went into ‘Mutual Defence Agreement’ with the US, whereupon the US established a Military Advisory Group in Rawalpindi.
In the 1960s, Ayub Khan allowed US spy missions to use Pakistan’s territory against the Soviet Union, but the fact remains that the US placed military and economic embargoes on Pakistan in the wake of the Indo-Pak war, which engendered economical constraints for Pakistan.
During Bhutto’s regime, President Jimmy Carter tightened the already placed embargoes on Pakistan. However, Bhutto managed to secure items to enhance the atomic bomb project. President Carter and his administration allegedly threatened Bhutto to disrupt the process of atomic proliferation and research to which the latter did not concur, leading to his differences with the Americans.
But it was Zia’s epoch where the US needed Pakistan the most, in order to launch a high octane proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of the ISI. As the US needed Pakistan, all the pecuniary and military sanctions were lifted and billions of dollars poured in.
But as the Soviet Union started disintegrating during this ideologically charged war, the same Pakistan was required no more; so the US Congress adopted the Pressler amendment, and thereby imposed the military and economic sanctions on Pakistan under the well-crafted excuse of nuclear proliferation. The relationship further plummeted as fresh sanctions were imposed under the Glenn amendment on the heels of the nuclear tests by Pakistan.
Just as 9/11 befell, America’s watchful eyes again fell on Pakistan which was endeared and left with no other option but to be the most important ally. The latter had to acquiesce and had to be a close friend.
This long phase of post-9/11 camaraderie between Pakistan and America has been the most intricate, as this is the phase in which the US unprecedentedly has to endure big losses in the land of Afghanistan. A large number of US soldiers have died and the blame many a time falls on Pakistan, not to mention its army and spy agencies. This is the wrath, or perhaps the despondency of the US officials that I have touched upon in the opening lines of this piece.
But now the despondency is giving way. The reason and meaning are given by the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The new General on our side is sensibly cautious about the swelling nuisance of terrorism. He has exhibited resolve to expunge the terrorists of all hues, inter alia, the Haqqanis and the “good” Taliban.
Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s group of North Waziristan, Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islam based in Khyber Agency and the top of all the Haqqanis have been severely dealt with, though these outfits have not been inimical to the state of Pakistan. For the first time in the last ten years, demands to “Do more” have not been voiced by the US.
Now the question is where the course of this renewed relationship will lead to. Much hinges upon the turf of Afghanistan. Too much Indian involvement in Afghanistan under the nose of the American presence with wrapped designs to bolster the proxies into Pakistan would definitely invite Pakistan’s interest in securing strategic depth; in order to counter anti-Pakistan groups. Thus, relations would never see the ray of hope. Pakistan has shown its commitment to exterminate terrorists and now it is America’s turn to play its role and force the actors involved to wean off anti-Pakistan terrorists nurturing on the bordering areas of Afghanistan. Commitments from both sides can potentially be the way out of this distrust, and a way forward too.
The writer is a lecturer at Punjab Group of Colleges, Lahore. He can be contacted at email@example.com