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Saving Pak-US relations

Thomas Houlahan

May 7th, 2013

 

 

I’ve never pulled any punches with regard to the US government’s policies towards Pakistan. Its best could be described as ill-considered; its worst have bordered on insane. The US government has a bad reputation among the Pakistani people because it deserves it.

I have to say this though: I believe that the policies have been the result of ignorance rather than any sinister plot to destroy Pakistan. The fact is that most American policymakers know next to nothing about Pakistan. As a result, they depend on people from the ‘big name’ think tanks in the US to tell them what they should do. That is largely where the problem lies.

Knowing so little about Pakistan, officials are unduly deferential to such supposed experts. In practice, once you get hooked up with one of the famous think tanks, officials in Washington tend to take every word you say or write as though it were absolute gospel, no matter how poorly-informed the opinion or how ill-considered the recommendations. Conversely, if you are not with one of the big names, you could know more about Pakistan than any other American and offer the soundest advice in the world and it would be dismissed out of hand. After all, as the thinking goes, if your ideas had any validity, you would have been snapped up by one of the big name think tanks.

The government thus proceeds on superficial analyses. The resulting recommendations, when followed, make the situation worse. The recommendations the US government has received from these institutions regarding Pakistan since 9/11 have been nothing short of disastrous. We saw a classic example bad advice last week in Christine Fair’s article, ‘Can this alliance be saved? Salvaging the US-Pakistan relationship’, in Time magazine.

There is simply too much wrong with the article to address it here. The gist of it is: (1) sanctions against Pakistan have failed because our (the US) government has not been tough enough in implementing them; (2) “Pakistan has undermined US interests at every turn,” principally by continuing to support the Taliban; (3) Pakistan continues to develop nuclear weapons pursuant to a policy of “nuclear extortion”.

Fair concludes that the United States should get tougher and offers specific recommendations along those lines. One of these is to declare “American support to render the Line of Control cutting through those portions of Kashmir administered by Pakistan and India as the international border” if Pakistan doesn’t toe the American line.

If Fair’s ultimate goal is to have Pakistan’s prime minister summon our ambassador and tell him that he has 72 hours to remove himself and all American government personnel from Pakistan’s soil, this would be the perfect course to take.

According to Fair, if her other recommendations don’t have the desired effect the US should be prepared to “let Pakistan fail.” Again, the arrogance of big name think tank theorists: I work with a prestigious think tank. I must be a top thinker. Therefore my recommendations must be the right ones. Therefore, if they turn out badly, it can only mean that the situation is absolutely hopeless and we should give up and walk away. I envy her self-assuredness.

Fair seems to assume that an alliance with the US is something so desirable that any nation would beg for it, no matter what the US did to it (see above: recognition of Line of Control as permanent border), so this is a simple matter of our government deciding whether or not it should continue to bless Pakistan with such an alliance. I’m not so sure.

Nawaz Sharif has spoken about the need to re-examine the US-Pakistan relationship. This is significant because, whether the US government likes it or not, he will be forming the next government after the elections.

Sharif is a wildly successful businessman. As such, when he is examining the value of a continued alliance with the United States, he’ll be weighing the costs – which are pretty obvious – against the benefits, much less so.

The PML-N chief will also find it difficult to identify any tangible benefit the people of Pakistan have received from the relationship so far. Other than thousands of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, a wrecked economy and a security situation as bad as I’ve ever seen it, I can’t see what the Pakistani people have gained.

No one will ever make me believe that had we given Pakistan assistance it actually needed, like help with education, law enforcement and its justice system, the power grid, agriculture, clean drinking water, etc we would not be every bit as popular with the Pakistani people as China is. In other words, had the US government’s dealings with Pakistan been directed by common sense rather than by so-called experts from big name think tanks, we would not even be having this discussion.

To Pakistanis, ingratitude is an unpardonable sin. They would be duly grateful and the relationship would thrive if only the US would give them something to be grateful for.

I’ve just completed my race-by-race analysis of the 272 contested National Assembly races. Here are my predictions: The PML-N will win 110 seats. The PPPP will win 66. The MQM will win 20. The JUI-F will win 16. The PTI will win 11. The ANP will win eight. The PML-Q will win six. The JI and the PML-F will each win four seats. Nine seats will be won by smaller parties and 18 by independents.

The writer is an analyst with the Centre for Security and Science, US. He monitored the 2008 elections in Pakistan.

 

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