• Saleem Qamar Butt

Pak-US Relations: How to Bridge the Widening Gap


I recently read a short paper titled ‘The Future of US Cooperation with Pakistan’, co-authored by General Joseph Votel (Ret.) who was commander of CENTCOM from March 2016 to March 2019, and Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata (Ret.) who was director of strategy for the US National Counterterrorism Center from 2016 to 2019. I have had the opportunity to meet General Votel as senior military and intelligence representative and always appreciated his professional acumen, sober outlook and mature understanding of Pakistan’s predicament accentuated due US' invasion of Afghanistan. Suffice to say that my hard hitting rebuttal to Afghan representatives and some others supporting their malicious narratives, spitting Indian venom in Afghan Dari at CENTCOM and other places was always heard patiently and advice taken positively by the American counterparts during General Votel command. The quoted paper further improved my appreciation and positive image of both the authors.


The paper was first published by the Middle East Institute, USA. I would like to quote some excerpts from that in italics and give my point of view based on first hand experience for the benefit of contemporary policy and decision makers in both the countries. It is stated in the said article, ‘The United States and Pakistan have had a complex and often disappointing “love-hate” relationship since 1947 — one severely tested during the 20-year U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan. We believe the time has come for serious policy consideration of whether and how both nations can achieve a more strategically beneficial and sustainable post-intervention relationship between the American and Pakistani governments and their populations’. In my reckoning, the realisation is laden with a mix of human, geo-economic and geo-security strategic imperatives that can still serve both the countries because despite global strategic realignments, the international community has never been more interdependent and interactive as is the case now. Therefore, isolation, ‘diplomatic annoyance mode’ or coercion are appalling options and only trigger unnatural alliances and exercise of other more risky options. The same has happened due American pick of India as a new strategic partner for misperceived dividends in Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics and in Asia Pacific Region and relegating Pakistan despite strategic role played in favour of USA since 50s till 2021.

The paper states that ‘Whatever U.S. strategic concerns may be about the future of Afghanistan, the course and direction of Pakistan’s strategic choices in coming years will also matter to the United States. There are a variety of reasons for this’. As per the given rationale, Pakistan’s nuclear capability, animosity between India and Pakistan with Kashmir being a nuclear flash point, Pakistan’s potential to act as a bridge due her ties with Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other bordering countries, and network of relationship in an era of “great power Competition” is viewed as a potential strategic benefit to any of the great power like USA and China. Lastly, despite its significant political and economic difficulties, Pakistan’s potential as a growing technology sector with its youthful population and worldwide diaspora of Pakistani doctors, scientists, academics, and other professionals is considered as an increasingly important part of the global community. In my opinion, all these factors stipulated by both the insightful veterans are genuine expressions of realpolitik where new strategic preference for India to check-mate spectacular rise of China as well as resurgent Russia doesn’t mean dumping and punishing an old tested ally. Pakistan’s Strategic Nuclear Capability is its survival kit to prevent any foreign aggression. It focuses primarily on deterring Indian uncalled for aggressive overtures, ironically at present under a hardcore RSS follower like Prime Minister Modi of BJP. Our American counterparts know very well that without resolution of Kashmir humanitarian and political issue as per UNO Resolutions, Kashmir will remain a nuclear flash point. Hence, the earlier the US plays a positive role in the UN Security Council to resolve this 72 years old dispute, the better for American global stature, international peace as well as for US’ better strategic relations with both the countries. Pakistan has always provided a diplomatic bridge to US; with China in 70s as well as with many other Muslim countries including peace dialogue with Afghan Taliban despite continual proxies launched by India from Afghan soil with full support of US installed puppet Afghan governments, RAW-NDS nexus with obvious looking the other way by Langley as well as by the Pentagon; besides, coercion by International Financial Institutions and hypocritical FATF as publicly confessed by Indian foreign minister. The incidents of year 2011 alone like Blackwater/ Xe Services contractor Raymond Davis killing innocent civilians in Lahore as an extension of CIA network in Pakistan including deployment of hundreds of covert operators, OBL killing in Abbottabad by double/ triple crossing and Killing of more than two dozen troops including officers at Salalah post on Pak-Afghan borders in Mohmand area are few examples to quote that stamp on US/CIA’s double dealing in the name of lack of trust; nevertheless, from Pakistan’s perspective, this tantamount to betrayal, backstab and testimony to my hypothesis “The Pentagon’s Foolish Friends” published on August 03, 2021.


Both the good veterans of South Asia acknowledge ‘the sources of “weariness and wariness” that U.S. policymakers, in both Democratic and Republican administrations, often associate with strategic discussions on Pakistan with subsequent U.S. government’s reluctance toward undertaking any kind of strategic interaction or rapprochement with Pakistan because of (mis)perceived betrayals’. They also admit that understanding the enormous complexities of Pakistan’s relationships, influence, and strategic choices in the South Asia milieu can be intellectually challenging and draining. However, what they need to factor in for clarity of thoughts and for better advocacy for improving understanding between the two countries is to ponder over what has been pointed out in my above cited piece.


The paper conclude that ‘the only thing harder than establishing a functional and mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan is living without one. Given unstable borders, a nuclear standoff with India, the continued presence of terrorist organizations, and the high potential for all of this to further disrupt our interests, there is no better alternative’. In their opinion, the areas worth exploring include ‘the possibility of planning, along with other like-minded international actors (both state and non-state), to manage the consequences of significant political instability and human suffering emerging from Afghanistan, including the possibility of substantial refugee flight into Pakistan’; needless to say this is something that had remained amiss in the last 20 years despite Pakistan consistent appeal…never too late for a good start, nevertheless. Second, ‘the possibility of counterterrorism cooperation against any terrorist threat that emerges from Afghanistan and prevents it from sowing further instability across the region’ e.g., working groups, forums, or exchanges without any positioning of U.S. intelligence or counterterrorism elements within its borders’. In my opinion, this should be a welcome step provided the Pentagon can prevail upon Langley and take a lead along with DIA and the State Department, instead. If Pakistan could make USA and Taliban sit on the dialogue table after two decades of meaningless war, there should be no reluctance by US in talking to an old friend who doesn't like to be mastered despite being befooled repeatedly by meaningless titles such as ‘best non-NATO ally’, ‘Front line state in war against terror’, which commenced with ‘you are with us or against us’ and ended with ‘frenemy’. But it must be underscored that this time around, the bilateral relations ought to be wholesome based on principle of equality, diplomatic reciprocity to counter parts, mutual respect and trust by shedding the prisms of Afghanistan and India.

The hardest and trickiest part both the good writers contemplate is to ‘explore the possibility of enlisting Pakistan cooperation, and that of India, toward some type of partial de-escalation of tensions along their common borders and, with it, even a slight amelioration of the nuclear weapons threat’. Referring to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee initiated dialogue about the de-escalation of tensions that included the highly emotional issue of Kashmir, both the veterans suggest to USA that ‘U.S. antagonists such as China would probably take a dim view of such efforts, and we believe that might be a reason for doing so rather than a reason to flinch from it’. Well-- American misperception about China’s take on resolution of Kashmir issue and nuclear de-escalation notwithstanding, the thought is appreciated and as stated earlier, resolution of Kashmir issue as per UNO Resolutions and according to the aspirations of the original people of Kashmir (and not Indian citizens stuffed in Indian occupied Kashmir to change it demography) deserves foremost handling.

I concur with the positive thinking by both the veterans that is suggestive of moving past the deceitful narrative of ‘disappointment’, and urging the USA to ‘move beyond neuralgias and carefully weigh the strategic costs of whether trying to somehow partner with Pakistan is more, or less, than the cost of failing to do so. We believe, in the long run, it is likely to be less costly’. Let's learn from respective blunders of the past and try to live in a more interdependent and economically more interconnected world whether through BRI/ CPEC or with more potential supplements from US and allies. Countries don’t have to act as a clock pendulum; extremes can be avoided and middle grounds on almost all issues can be explored.

(The views are writer's own)

12th August 2021


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