Pakistan’s Worsening Crisis of Confidence with Washington

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It isn’t the figment of a cynic’s imagination to say that Pakistan has mostly had a chequered relationship with US. Ever since the two unequal ‘partners’ hitched up with each other, in the infancy of the Cold War between US and the then USSR, their relationship has gone through periodical cycles. In other words, it has been on a roller-coaster ride.

Another maxim dominating the history of US-Pakistan relations is that Washington, in the case of cultivating relations with Pakistan, has always been infatuated with the powerful Pakistan army and courted it at the expense of Pakistan’s civil society.

For Washington, there may be a plausible reason for this extraordinary lopsidedness. Pakistan was picked up as a ‘partner’ in the Cold War against the Soviet Union because John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Eisenhower, was impressed by the quality of Pakistan’s military leadership and discipline and thought it had real potential to strengthen the system of defence alliances US was then engaged in shaping up against the rival super power.

That pattern still holds good. The Cold War has long been over but Pakistan’s powerful and influential army is still heavily engaged on the side of US in fighting another kind of war-the ‘war against terror’, especially the one being fought since the cataclysm of 9/11 in Afghanistan.

The ongoing war against terror in Afghanistan-now in its 10th year-has made the Pakistan army’s assistance a lynchpin of Washington’s costly effort to snuff out the Taliban resistance and ‘win’ the war, both on the battlefield as well as politically. The Pakistan army has also been a major recipient of military assistance from Washington. It’s not a largesse-and the leadership of Pakistan’s military is very sensitive in highlighting this fact-but a payment for the intense and expensive effort being invested by the Pakistan military to acquit itself of its mission.

Not for the first time, however, this pattern of close co-operation-or partnership, as Washington so assiduously insists-between the Pakistan army and Washington has bred a culture of resentment and hostility in the people of Pakistan against US, a fact borne out by all sorts of opinion polls and surveys conducted by US agencies active in the field of public opinion, as well as by researchers in Pakistan, too.

The public hostility in Pakistan against their army and government having become partisans of Washington is anchored in the perception that the war being waged against the terrorists-both inside Pakistan as well as on the Afghan side of the border-is not Pakistan’s war. Those articulating the public opinion of the Pakistanis argue that because of Pakistan’s involvement in an issue which had no provenance in Pakistan the country is being sucked into a quagmire.

They point out to the fact that Pakistan has become a target of terrorist acts because of the unjustified involvement of its army and government in an ‘alien’ war. There are facts and figures aplenty to buttress their argument. Pakistan had never experienced a suicide attack anywhere in its land before it cast its dye in favour of becoming a partisan in what the people of Pakistan insist is America’s war. Hundreds of suicide attacks and targeted bombing, in cities and country-side alike over the past almost ten years, have exacted a colossal toll, already, from the Pakistanis in terms of lives lost and men, women and children maimed.

On top of what price the terrorists are exacting from the people of Pakistan for the ‘sins’ of their army and the government, a stiffer price in blood is also being exacted by Washington, through its infuriatingly spiralling number of drone attacks inside Pakistan.

The American drones are proving to be the biggest bane for a relationship which has never been easy but has acquired a definite nastiness about it because of the American proclivity to shoot from the hip.

Drone attacks against targets inside Pakistan were commenced under the watch of George W. Bush in the White House. But Obama has embraced the Bush ‘initiative’ with unremitting zeal. The proof of it is the frequency of these drone ‘visitations’ on the Pakistani people in the last two years of Obama being at then helm in Washington. Drone sorties have increased exponentially under Obama; there were hundreds of attacks in 2010, killing more than 950 Pakistanis in what the Pentagon and CIA-owners and operators of drones-just casually dismiss as ‘collateral damage.’

However, America’s relentless war-mongering was causing a real collateral damage to the reputation of the Pakistan army in the eyes and estimations of the people of Pakistan.

The Pakistanis have never accepted the US assertion that drones are targeting the terrorists. In their estimation, this nuisance from the skies is a deliberate American ploy to sow terror in the hearts of the Pakistanis by targeting civilians-innocent men, women and children who predominate among the casualties of these drone attacks.

The people of Pakistan, especially since the Americans invaded and occupied next-door Afghanistan, have regarded US as the principal danger to their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Repeated opinion polls and surveys-conducted by both US-based think tanks as well as those in Pakistan-have reached this conclusion that US is enemy number one in the perception of the people of Pakistan who dread that America is after its nuclear assets and wouldn’t mind undoing Pakistan itself in its brazen quest to unhinge Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

By the same token, the people of Pakistan have made no attempt to hide their contempt for their ruling civilian elite, which is seen as a pack of robber barons serving the US imperial interests and not bothered about safeguarding Pakistan’s primordial national interests, or its sovereign boundaries, for that matter. They haven’t been disappointed or disproved either by the abysmally uninspiring and, at times morally bankrupt, conduct of their rulers, as amply borne out by the Wiki Leaks.  

But Pakistan army has always had a special place in the hearts of the Pakistani people, largely because it draws its ranks-and over the past three decades the bulk of its officers’ corps-from amongst the lower and middle-middle classes of the Pakistani civil society. The army has also been able to enhance this popular perception on the basis of its remarkable efficiency, calibre and disciplined that stands out in marked contrast to the pedestrian track record of the country’s politicians.

However, the army’s hard-to-understand-in the perception of the layman-reign of silence over the blight of the US drones-and the untold suffering it caused to the ordinary people-was denting the military’s aura and triggering a whispering campaign that the army, too, was complicit in the American torturing of the Pakistani people. To an army that has consistently prided itself on its public moorings and credentials this couldn’t be anything other than a wake-up call.

This new, but perceptibly emerging, phenomenon in Pakistan-largely thanks to a very liberal, outspoken and vocal news media-was especially jarring to the country’s military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, a highly trained officer of impeccable credentials.

Unlike his shaded predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf-who signed on the Bush war on terror without batting an eyelid, opened the country’s military and air bases to use by the Americans, and boastfully ‘sold’ hundreds of Pakistanis to the Americans (something he proudly mentioned in his ghost-written ‘autobiography’) in return for money to fill his own coffers-General Kayani has the reputation of a gentleman. With his ears firmly plugged to the ground, Kayani couldn’t but be disturbed by rumblings of popular discontent about his conduct and that of the army he led in the context of the popular backlash against American marauding.

But the last straw to break the back of the people of Pakistan’s patience came earlier this year when a hired-gun and a trained CIA killer, by the name of Raymond Davis, shot two Pakistani youths in the heart of Lahore, in broad daylight, and an American Consular car, rushing to his abortive rescue, crushed a third young man under its wheels before dashing into the safe confines of the US Consulate in Lahore.

The uproar on the heels of an unprecedented act of brinkmanship by a Rambo-like American agent provocateur shook the core of US-Pakistan relations. It brought to the surface that seething public discontent that had simply been looking for a soft spot to come to the surface. The damn of public tolerance had been breached for good.

The fact that the Raymond Davis saga embroiled the nation of Pakistan as one couldn’t have been lost on the hectoring Americans or their supine clients in the Pakistan government. And yet Davis was allowed to go Scott free, in return for ‘blood money’ allegedly paid to the kith and kin of the victims of his murderous spree, seven weeks later, forcing the Pakistani people to conjecture who was more to blame: an out-of-control and arrogant imperialist power running berserk over their land, or their slavish rulers who tilted at all windmills to ensure a safe exit for the brazen murderer of three Pakistanis?

The army too couldn’t escape the popular rage pointing fingers at those culpable of this crime against the nation. The popular mood was angered infinitely by Hillary Clinton’s arrogant boast that no American money had been used to pay off the blood relatives of the victims. The only inference, in people’s mind, couldn’t be other than suspecting that the army’s intelligence arm, ISI, had dipped into its own coffers to come up with the ‘blood money’ because ISI was seen as being the ‘facilitator’ smoothening the way for the American murderer to escape the reach of Pakistani justice. The army stood guilty of complicity in the crime; it had touched an unprecedented nadir in public esteem.

But in a quirk of fate that was ironical in the extreme, the Americans, in their hubris, came to the early, though unintended no doubt, rescue of their dumb-founded Pakistani comrades-in-arms.

What could only be attributed to a nauseating embodiment of imperial arrogance, US celebrated Davis’ release from Pakistani custody with a furious drone raid, the very next morning, in which 46 Pakistanis-mostly women and children-were slaughtered. These drone attacks had remained mysteriously suspended as long as Davis was in Pakistani hands. US, undoubtedly, sought to remind the Pakistanis-if any reminder was at all warranted-that it was the master of their situation and free to fashion it whichever way it wanted.

The public rage and uproar, on the heels of this carnage, provided an opening to General Kayani to weave his army back into the public favour. He seized the opening without wasting a moment and came out with a sharp denunciation of the brazen attack and calling for immediate end to the deadly game.

General Kayani’s open critique of US provocations won him the hearts of the Pakistani people but blew the lid off the half-hearted efforts of the two governments to keep the deep fissures in their bilateral relationship under covers.

That’s where the US-Pakistan relations stand at the moment: divided at the core with a yawning deficit of trust despite the two being ‘allies’ in the war against terror in Afghanistan. Remedial efforts are ostensibly under way but the Americans in particular seem not to have their heart in them. A visit by the ISI chief, General Shuja Pasha, to Washington in the middle of April has failed to break the ice. A return visit to Islamabad by the Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, has likewise been unhelpful.

The ‘strategic dialogue between the two countries, held periodically, remains suspended and there are no signs on the horizon of its resumption, any time soon.

Mullen, in fact, seemed to have poured more oil on the burning fire during his Islamabad visit by publicly accusing some elements of ISI for being partisans and supporters of the Haqqani Group, ensconced in Pakistan’s tribal North Waziristan; the Americans regard this outfit for being a major supporter of the Afghan Taliban and sheltering terrorists under its wings.

Mullen’s provocative denunciation of ISI has been quickly followed, within hours literally, by another murderous visitation of US drones. As of the writing of these lines, at least 25 civilians-including 4 women and 5 children-have been killed in this latest raid. The saga of unhindered spilling of the Pakistani blood shows no sign of abating.

The US-Pakistan badly mauled equation at this juncture reminds of an unhappy marriage-this one being one of utter convenience-in which neither partner wants a divorce but also unwilling, apparently, to inject any sense of normality in the botched relationship. Pakistan demands equality of status and respect deserving of an ally, which US is unprepared to grant. The imperial arrogance knows only to dictate not accommodate. A super power, with its global outreach seems infuriatingly disinclined from accommodating a poor but unavoidably essential ‘partner’ in an unending war. But what sends shivers aplenty down many a spine in Washington is the unsavoury thought that this poor little partner also happens to be a nuclear power.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2011 on page no. 26

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