The denial by the US Congress for the financing of the purchase of eight F-16 aircrafts and the restrictions placed by it on the provision of coalition support fund amounting to $450 million, show that the process of the gradual erosion of Pakistan’s relations with the US continues unabated. So does the spectacle of the unravelling of our flawed foreign and security policies based on unrealistic assumptions and wishful thinking. It seems that those in charge of the formulation of our foreign, security and economic policies are oblivious of the emerging strategic, political and economic trends. Further, because of the lack of necessary coordination among the security, diplomatic and economic arms of the government we often see official policies relating to these areas working at cross purposes. This experience creates the unfortunate impression of a country, which lacks a sense of direction and of policy makers who are living in a fool’s paradise.

The recent experience of the F-16 deal and the restrictions placed by the US Congress on the provision of coalition support funds to Pakistan substantiate the foregoing points. Pakistan was to purchase eight F-16 aircrafts at the total cost of $ 700 million equivalent to Rs.73.5 billion approximately, that is, $87.5 million or Rs.9.2 billion per aircraft. The US government was to provide $430 million out of FMF (foreign military financing) and the remaining amount of $270 million (Rs.28.4 billion) was to be paid by Pakistan out of its own resources. Having cleared the sale of the aircraft initially, the US Congress later blocked the financing of the deal through FMF. In other words, Pakistan can still purchase these aircraft if it is prepared to pay the whole amount out of its own resources. Pakistan, as expected, has declined to do so because its budgetary situation does not allow it to pay the whole amount. Thus, the denial of the FMF facility was a clever way of rejecting the deal.

Later on 18 May, the US House of Representatives placed restrictions on the provision of $450 million of CSF(Coalition Support Fund) to Pakistan by adding amendments to the $602 billion National Defense Authorization Act. These amendments, if approved also by the US Senate, would require the US Defense Secretary to certify that Pakistan was conducting military operations to disrupt the Haqqani network. Another amendment would require certification from Pentagon that Pakistan was not using US provided funds or equipment to persecute minority groups. Finally, a “sense of the Congress” amendment called for the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi who had cooperated with the US in tracking Osama bin Laden. The same considerations were behind the move by the US Congress to block the use of FMF for the sale of a F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. According to some reports, an additional factor in the case of F-16 aircrafts was to exert pressure on Pakistan for ending its tactical nuclear weapon programme and restricting its medium-range Shaheen III ballistic missile programme.

These restrictions and punitive measures, which show the current dismal state of Pakistan-US relations, need to be seen with a proper perspective- in the context of the long-term trends relating to the global and regional security environment. Since the end of the Cold War the over-arching US strategic goal has been to prevent the emergence of a rival like the Soviet Union in any part of the world. Currently, this goal translates into strategic moves by the US to contain China which has the potential to emerge as such a rival because of its rapid economic growth and the steady expansion of its military power. The US decisions to rebalance its forces in favour of the Asia-Pacific region, strengthen its alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia, and build up India as a major power of the 21st century are undoubtedly moves to contain the expansion of the Chinese power and influence. India, which is on the trajectory of rapid growth of its economic and military power and has its own apprehensions about China, perfectly fits into the over-arching US design to contain China.

This convergence of the strategic interests of the US and India explains the rapid and steady growth in the strategic ties between the two countries. The process of the expansion of Indo-US strategic partnership started during the tenure of President Clinton, gathered speed during the presidency of George Bush and has continued apace under President Obama. This trend, which is likely to remain the predominant factor in the global and regional politics for a long time to come, enjoys bipartisan and overwhelming support in the US Congress and the American foreign policy and security establishment. By way of contrast, Pakistan looks at China as a strategic partner and a source of support to counter the long-term threat to its security posed by India. It, therefore, cannot form a part of the over-arching US design to contain China. This fundamental and long-term divergence in Pakistan-US strategic interests cannot but have negative repercussions on their bilateral relations.

Unfortunately, our policy makers, both on the civil and military sides, refuse to face this harsh reality and take it into account in their current and future plans. If that were not the case, they wouldn’t be buying expensive weapon systems like F-16 at the cost of Rs.9.2 billion per aircraft from the US for the stated but laughable objective of anti-terrorism operations in FATA. The deal, if it goes through, would tie us to the apron-strings of the US for a long time to come. This would be extremely risky for our long-term security considering the US tendency to use such dependence as a leverage to extract concessions from Pakistan, its unreliability as a friend as shown by our past experience and the growing strategic divergence between the two countries.

This is not to deny that Pakistan and the US do have common interests in the restoration of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, peace and stability in South Asia, and in the promotion of moderation, enlightenment and human progress. These areas do provide possibilities of mutually beneficial cooperation which we must fully exploit. Similarly, the US as the most powerful political, economic and military power in the world offers attractive opportunities for strengthening bilateral ties in different fields. We should try to take full advantage of these opportunities in our country’s best interests. However, we would be able to do so effectively only by adopting policies of austerity and self-reliance, lessening Pakistan’s economic and military dependence on an unreliable friend like the US, and diversifying our external political, economic and security links.

We would have to break the begging bowl since economic dependence and an independent foreign policy calculated to serve the best interests of the country, cannot go together. We would have to learn to stand on our own feat as any self-respecting nation would do. We would have to tailor our strategic goals to fit the national resources and power available to achieve them. We would have to assign the top priority to the national goal of rapid economic development as without economic and technological strength, military power will prove to be a castle of sand. It is in this context and on the basis of mutual respect that we should maintain friendly relations with the US for strengthening bilateral ties in various fields and for promoting cooperation in areas where our interests converge.