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   March  09, 2014


“Why America is so involve in Pakistani matters and why Pakistan is in the grip of America”

The United States–Pakistan relations refer to the international, historical, and cultural bilateral relationship between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the United States of America. Roughly two months of its establishment after the departure of the subcontinent by Great Britain, the United States established relations with Pakistan on 20 October 1947. United States is among the first nations to establish connections with Pakistan which started in late 1940s. Since then, relations have been centred on the United States' extensive economic, scientific, and military assistance to Pakistan.

The American Relationship with Pakistan
As Bruce Riedel describes it, the US alliance with Pakistan has always been turbulent and destructive: “For the past 60 years, American policy toward Pakistan has oscillated wildly. In the love-fest years, Washington would build relationships with Pakistan and throw billions of rupees with little accountability. If Washington would cut off military and economic aid, there were fewer chances that Pakistan would have survived in the scorned years. Throughout the relationship, America endorsed every Pakistani dictator, despite the fact that they started wars with India and moved their country ever deeper into the jihadist fold.”

The “love-fest” years and the “scorned” years were not a matter of whim, however. In general, when Pakistan was useful as a military ally, the United States has tended to ignore issues related to domestic politics, Pakistan’s relationship with India or nuclear proliferation. During periods without an overwhelming security interest involving Pakistan, the United States has tended to distance itself and bring half-hearted pressure on the country to democratize, make peace with India and forgo nuclear weapons.

One reason why US approaches to Pakistan have crashed and burned so often is that the modern US foreign policy tradition, born out of six decades of superpower status, has an expectation of how easy or hard it should be to elicit the acquiescence of other states. Pakistanis knows power can be fickle and have sought to exploit American interests: “Since 9/11 and on previous occasions as well, Pakistan has based its approach to the United States on two assumptions: that Pakistan is vulnerable and that the United States needs Pakistan more than the other way round.”

Pakistan’s Troubles
It is a truism that the development of democracy in Pakistan has been hindered by the power of the military. Washington treats the army’s anti-democratic propensities as an unfortunate, if at times useful, fact of life. It has been less concerned about understanding why it has come to pass. This gap is filled by Philip Oldenburg in his very thoughtful study India, Pakistan and Democracy.

The failure of democracy in Pakistan is most evident today in the rise of political violence directed against the state. One such threat is the religious sectarian groups that seek an Islamic state. The other is the ethnic movement in Balochistan that demands self-determination and secession. The first has been largely ignored by the state -- and sometimes supported by it. The second has met with brutal repression.

Religion has been present in Pakistani politics since the beginning, a natural outcome of the demand for a homeland for the Muslims of British India that led to its creation. It offered an easy way to bolster a fragile, undeveloped nationalism and foster support for the state. Despite its obvious risks and drawbacks, religion was used by the Pakistani state to try to hold its various major ethnic groups together, all but one of which (the Punjabis) have at one time or another sought to secede. The majority population of the original Pakistan, the Bengalis of East Pakistan, won independence in 1971 and became Bangladesh.

Over the last five years, Pakistan has seen a sharp increase in attacks by religious extremists across the country. There are now ideological, organizational and individual links between Islamist social and professional organizations, political parties and armed jihadi groups -- some that go all the way to FATA and al-Qaeda. The rise of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan in FATA has brought Punjabi Islamist militants to train and fight in the Tribal Areas. High-profile al-Qaeda members have been captured in Pakistani cities in homes and mosques run by the Jamaat-e Islami, a major Islamist political party.

The other pressing problem of domestic political violence, one often neglected in America’s view of Pakistan, is the episodic insurgency being waged by the Baloch. Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, bordering Afghanistan, Iran and the Arabian Sea, and the most underdeveloped. It has over 40 percent of Pakistan’s land area but around 5 percent of the total population. Like the tribal areas in Pakistan’s northwest, the Baloch assumed they would be independent in 1947 but were annexed in 1948 and were subsequently never fully integrated into Pakistan’s federal government.

Among ordinary people, there is tremendous frustration about the difficulties of everyday life -- evident in frequent, widespread urban rioting over shortages of electricity and natural gas -- the dire state of the economy, the lack of accountability and the denial of the rights of citizenship. This crisis of democracy and the spiraling political violence have nothing to do with the US war in Afghanistan. These problems would have exploded regardless of the September 11 attacks and the American response thereto, and they pose an internal challenge to Pakistan’s stability and prosperity. US policy, however, will be central in the coming elections, expected sometime in 2012 or early 2013, which may prove to be pivotal for the future of Pakistan.

Common Problems
The crises of 2011 prompted debates in both countries over how to move forward. In Washington, several administration officials and members of Congress have argued for sidelining Pakistan and giving India a larger stake in Afghanistan. Others insist that it is important to tread carefully and that Pakistan cannot just be dumped. In Pakistan, many are arguing for complete disengagement while others are pushing for new rules of engagement.

There are two fundamental problems undergirding US-Pakistan troubles. First, instead of a broad partnership that includes trade and cultural linkages, the two countries have a one-dimensional transactional relationship centered along security concerns, i.e., the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In a way, General Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan’s retired Army chief and ambassador to the US, underscored this point, saying that, in his assessment, “US-Pakistan relations were at their worst because relations between the Pentagon and the Pakistan Army were unstable.” US-Pakistan relations are further complicated because of clashing security interests, especially vis-ŕ-vis the Afghan Taliban. These two problems will not yield to quick diplomatic fixes. Barring a fundamental re-thinking, Washington and Islamabad should get used to making the best of an ambiguous alliance, and one that, going forward, will be limited, transactional, and security-centered, featuring competition over the endgame in Afghanistan, cooperation in the fight against al-Qaeda, and a trimmed-down and conditional aid structure.

Promote Transition to Democracy
The U.S. can help bring about a peaceful transition to civilian-led democratic rule in Pakistan by continuing to speak in favor of civilian and democratic freedoms. If Washington stays in step with the evolving political situation in Pakistan and focuses on enhancing democratic institutions in the country, its credibility with the Pakistani people will grow as it works to encourage a peaceful transition to a civilian-led government representative of the Pakistani people which in result will help in building a prosper and peaceful Pakistan.

It is important to point out that although such a relationship can accomplish short-term objectives, it cannot tackle mid-to-long-term challenges. That is why there is a crucial need for Washington to vigorously rethink relations with Pakistan. US regional interests and Pakistan’s geopolitical importance warrant a pragmatic, complex, and dynamic Pakistan policy. The US plans to maintain sizable bases and a military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. It also has interests in Central Asia because of the region’s vast reserves of oil and natural gas. On the other hand, Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state led by corrupt and unaccountable leaders and institutions, with a weak economy, growing population, and a youth bulge. Moreover, it suffers from resource scarcity and mismanagement (especially in water, gas, and electricity) and will need resources to provide postconflict stability in many parts of the country. In the long run, the US can scarcely afford a minimalist relationship with Pakistan. It must engage Pakistan on multiple dimensions and create partnerships to encompass the government, business, and financial sector and civil society. The alternative to such a creative rethinking is not pleasant to contemplate.


Institute of Nursing
Dow University of Health Sciences



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