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Pak-US Relations: Hostage to Two Narratives


By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse , May 04 ,2012

Pakistan and US relations are currently being defined by two narratives, one being peddled in Washington, and the other in Islamabad. The former questions “Is a nuclear-equipped Pakistan really worth $928.3 million in economic assistance, when it is dodgy, non-cooperative, and helping insurgents who are killing American and Afghan soldiers?” This question by an American journalist Daniel de Gracia (originally raised in the April 26, 2012 article - Making Waves: A Hawaii Perspective on Washington Politics) essentially resonates the Washington narrative, reflecting frustration and rage. It also questions as to why should the US trust Pakistan, which supports those Afghan “insurgents” (read Haqqani Network) who kill Americans and other allied troops in Afghanistan. The United States should seriously review its commitments in South and Central Asia, especially in Pakistan. It makes little sense that the United States should be, in effect, paying tribute to Pakistan even as they build strategic weapons of mass destruction, as enunciated by Daniel de Gracia. 

The Islamabad narrative believes the partnership with Washington has entailed a huge human, financial and political cost. The arrogant and self-centred USA hardly bothers about the interests and sentiments in Pakistan. The refusal to tender an apology over the Salala attack (Nov 26) and continued drone strikes (the latest on April 30th) are “glaring examples of the American insensitivity towards Pakistan. The USA clearly remains oblivious to the new reality that in Pakistan, the parliament and its recommendations have taken the centre stage. And the parliament has categorically demanded an apology as well as a halt to the controversial predator strikes.

The two narratives offer a clear contrast; the one from a super power that wants blind compliance in return for money i.e. monetizing services and human losses. 

The discourse in a politically unsure and economically battered Islamabad reeks with mistrust of the US wish-list and the way it wants to handle Pakistan. 

During special envoy Marc Grossman’s Islamabad visit, the two conflicting narratives practically ruled out any progress. Both stuck to their basic positions; the US delegation reiterated its “suspicions” of the Haqqani Network’s involvement (described on Sept 22 by former army chief Admiral Mullen as the veritable arm of the ISI ) in the April 15 Kabul attacks. 

Grossman and his delegates used these multiple strikes as the excuse that led to the “hardening of position” on the apology issue. Pakistan conveyed in unambiguous terms that the demands come from the parliament and practically gave Grossman a shut-up call on this count, saying finger-pointing must stop because “it will take us nowhere.” 

That is why the Islamabad round ended without any significant move forward; officials refused to declare it a stalemate or deadlock, but neither did they find any word to denote the discussions even as friendly. Stern meetings took place, marked by exchange of usual rhetoric, underlining hardening of positions on both sides. 

Reality Check 

It is an unstable “love-hate, on / off affair” defined by mutual suspicions and driven by anger beneath the surface. But can both sides afford the status quo? Can Pakistan bear the possible geo-political and economic consequences of protracted defiance vis-à-vis the United States? Will it be able to continuously duck under the Parliamentary Resolution, rather than deploying deft diplomacy. And will a dispassionate scrutiny would only draw a big NO to almost all questions that are currently scratching the Pak-US relationship. Let us see why?

n numerical terms, the United States remains the largest source of bilateral aid to Pakistan. For FY2010, the United States budgeted approximately $1.2 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan. The administration’s $1.5 billion funding request for economic assistance to Pakistan for FY2011 exceeded the $1.39 billion requested for combating climate change, the $1.3 billion for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the $861 million for disaster relief worldwide, and it is about half of the entire global health budget of USAID (taken from “What the United States spends in Pakistan, Center for Global Development, USA)

And, according to the State Department’s requested FY2013 budget, some $928.3 million has been requested to “focus on programs to help Pakistan address its energy challenges, increase economic growth including agriculture, help stabilize border areas, and improve delivery of social services, particularly education and health.

Also, the relatively magnanimous funding stream from the World Bank, the IMF (which lent almost 12 billion dollars between 2008-2010), and the Asian Development Bank became possible also because of the goodwill of the United States, meaning thereby that Washington holds the key to international financial assistance to Pakistan and it can pull the plug whenever it deemed fit.

But it cannot, this is what power brokers in Islamabad believe. They think the ground lines of communications (GLOCS) running through Pakistan remain extremely crucial for the American and NATO pullout from Afghanistan, even ahead of the July 2014 deadline. This belief rests on arithmetic, which suggests that the cargo via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) costs double that of the Pakistani route. But does the cost really matter to the sole super power and the top seven wealthy nations of the world?

The alliance is already sending some 75 per cent of ground sustainment cargo via the Georgian – Azerbaijan – Latvia - Russian NDN, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee released in December last year.

Although the NDN supply route is far more expensive, and allows non-lethal supplies only, in all probability, if push came to shove, the US-NATO nations would most probably stick to it rather than remaining hostage to the uncertain Pakistan route. Seen in the context of the alliance’s geo-political objectives, a few billion dollars worth of additional cost would hardly matter for the three dozen nations that are currently engaged in Afghanistan.

The greater cumulative political and economic loss would be Pakistan’s; besides international diplomatic isolation, total suspension of US-NATO cargo via Pakistan means substantial loss of employment opportunities for more than 20,000 families.

We know this and that is why we are trying to convince the opposition that resumption of GLOCs is in Pakistan’s political and economic interest too,” said an extremely highly placed official. If we can help the US-NATO forces pullout via Pakistan, this could perhaps also lead to some stabilization in Afghanistan, said the official, pointing to the Afghan insurgents and its Pakistani supporters, who claim that foreign troops’ presence in Afghanistan is fueling the current conflict.

Is there any middle ground then? “The Middle Ground is for both to appreciate the respective limitations and the new realities (in Pakistan) as well as concede that compulsions of American domestic politics keeps spoiling the broth with every new elections, as Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British envoy to Kabul, wrote in his memoirs Cables from Kabul.

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk