By Yasser Latif Hamdani
There are some fundamental truths that both Pakistanis and Americans need to understand about our mutual relationship especially in Afghanistan :
1. Pakistan and US are natural allies. I know the fashionable in India and the US like to talk of a “natural alliance” between their two countries but both India and the US must realize that theirs can be at best a mercantile relationship. Natural alliances are not necessarily based on hollow idealism and grandiose but ridiculous propositions like the “arcs of democracy”. If this was true, Pakistan and Russia would be natural allies but they are not. Natural alliances are based on convergence of geo-strategic objectives and in the case of Pakistan the long term interests of Pakistan and US will always coincide in this region.
2. The US needs Pakistan MORE than Pakistan needs the US: The importance of Pakistan to the US is fundamental. Not only does Pakistan geographically sit at the crossroads of great energy pipelines of the world but will be an important conduit for China – the next global economic superpower. It’s premier port city – Karachi – is give or take two hours by plane from Bombay, Delhi, Dubai, Kabul and ofcourse Islamabad. US maintains an active presence of its intelligence officials all over Pakistan and it is here that US has its eyes and ears in the region. As in 1970-1971, US will look to Pakistan to play not only the role of bridgebuilder with China but perhaps will seek to exercise influence through it. The post-US scenario in Afghanistan is a daunting challenge and a clash between US and Indian/Russian interests in Afghanistan is likely and in this the US will lean on Pakistan. Furthermore former President Richard Nixon , shortly before his death, identified four Muslim countries as holding the key to US interests in the 21st century i.e. Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt. These four are the most modern nation states in all of the Islamic world, with established economies and strong ties with the US. As the third world and Muslim world will move out of US sphere, Pakistan’s importance for US policy makers will only increase.
3. Pakistan also needs the US. Crazed fundamentalists and armchair revolutionaries in Pakistan love to cry hoarse against America. The truth is that Pakistan needs US as well. If Pakistan does not settle terms with the US, the US will most likely be forced to go to the next option which will unacceptable for us. That the US aid is peanuts compared to what the two Afghan wars have cost us is undeniable, but Pakistan needs the US at this critical hour when our economy has taken a nose dive. Let us also not forget that the US is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and that balance of trade is in our favor by a long shot. If Pakistan is important to the US, Pakistan’s importance for other powers such as China is also directly proportional to its influence with the US.
Pakistani political leadership – and by this I mean PPP and PML-N in main- must tread carefully. The game plan of a cynical and wretched entrenched establishment is to present itself as the suitable alternative to civilian democratic leadership. Old habits die hard and the US feels much more comfortable dealing with one-man shows. Therefore the leadership must resist any urge to outflank the establishment on its anti-American rhetoric- it is a trap. The long term objectives of Pakistan’s civilian political elite should be as follows:
1. Long term sustainability of the constitutional democratic process, however unsavory it may be.
2. Peace and trade with India are also key to Pakistan’s progress. India will be the South Asian economic powerhouse. If Pakistan plays its cards right vis a vis US, China and India, it too can create a prosperous mid-sized economy. It is therefore counterproductive to declare a 1000 years war on India.
These two objectives can and will run counter to perceived American interests. If history is any judge, Americans are likely to support the establishment and other elements whenever a government in Pakistan gets out of line. In 1977, the Americans were funding the Jamaat-e-Islami and its leader Mian Muhammad Tufail who were instrumental in General Zia’s coup. In 1999, the right wing Muslim nationalist PML-N and right Hindu Nationalist BJP had turned a remarkable new leaf in Indo-Pak relations, when a miltiary coup was staged against the peace process- first through an act of war and then through a direct coup in Islamabad. What followed was a military dictatorship in Pakistan which came to be one of the most closest US allies in Pakistan’s history.
Some of my American friends ask me why so many of my compatriots hate them. That is a simple one really and I am surprised how many well informed Americans ask this question. They hate you because as a people Pakistanis haven’t seen the benefits of the assistance and aid that you’ve given Pakistan. Had the Americans chosen to deal with a democratic dispensation, instead of putting their eggs in military basket, some of that aid and assistance would have reached down to the common man. In this respect atleast, Kerry Lugar Bill is a huge improvement and Pakistan’s political leadership is well advised not to play into the ghairat lobby’s high pitched rhetoric.