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Is it a watershed time in relations between America and Pakistan?

Friday, January 12, 2018
By Ranajoy Sen

Diplomacy between the United States of America (USA) and Pakistan appear to be inching toward a nadir. Although, what the extent and attribute of it would be in any changed equilibrium state is not subject to certainty, at this stage. America’s President, Donald Trump, has scathingly spoken of Pakistan’s duplicity as regards its diplomatic affairs with the USA. His principal reason of choleric outburst is that nearly $33 billion has been given by the USA to Pakistan to assist that country in decisively combating terrorism without any selectivity, and to possibly endeavour for a stable, secure polity; in return, Pakistan has been apparently very selective about pursuing terrorist groups, used certain terrorist groups as foreign policy instruments, and often indulged in duplicity vis-a-vis the USA. Trump has spoken of annulling further aid, and has warned Pakistan to mend its ways.  

For sure, Pakistan has articulated angry rejoinders. Statements from the Pakistan government have angrily entailed about the potential sacrifices that the state of Pakistan has made to combat terrorism. Utterances to the extent of not caring much for American aid and assistance have also been heard. Nevertheless, it is only too obvious to any thoughtful, aware individual observing South Asian affairs, to what phenomenal extent Pakistan has been and possibly still is dependent on the USA. Additionally, it is a very keen sense of awareness by American and Pakistani establishments that a donor of finances is bound to have much greater leverage than the one accepting the concerned largesse, even if the donor has been rather, if not undesirably, indulgent to the recipient in certain matters, before. Furthermore, the Indian angle has always been a factor in American-Pakistani relations.

Hostility is continuing factor
It is not surprising that Donald Trump, in his capacity as the American President, has chosen to refer to Pakistan scathingly. Much more notable is that he has been the first American President to explicitly do so. Since independence and consequent partition of British India into two sovereign countries, India and Pakistan, hostility has been a continuing factor in the relations between the two countries. There was enough scope for hostilities between the two countries arising from events in the run up to independence. No matter what might be said or not said, it is irrefutable that it was the sheer intransigence, often overflowing to hatred and arrogance of a group of leaders of the Muslim League, that  inexorably lead to partitioning of the country. They were led by the indisputable and waspish Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

After partition, rather than concentrating on economic rehabilitation of the millions of refugees which partition had brought about to both countries, Pakistan eagerly looked for a land grab in the former princely state of Kashmir. Its adventure was thwarted by Indian forces with support of the erstwhile Maharaja, the population of the state, at large, and by leaders, led by Sheikh Abdullah, of Kashmir’s most popular political party, the National Conference. Even with possession of about one-third of Kashmir’s territory, Pakistan has been fixated with the idea of “getting even” with India, if not to wrest Kashmir into its own political jurisdiction. Towards that purpose, which appeared to override every other factor, Pakistan began looking for benefactors. With United Kingdom in withdrawal mode from its colonial past, it could not be the most prominent benefactor. The USA seemed the obvious choice. The sole superpower, with a mighty economy and vast armed forces, Pakistan was happy to have the USA on its side. Toward that goal it worked assiduously, in those years of the ‘40s and ‘50s of the preceded century.

Events moved very fast toward Pakistan’s favour when the Eisenhower administration took office in USA, in January, 1953. The Republican regime, eager in its zeal to push back the frontiers of what was described as “evil” Communism, was keen to form pacts with countries across the world, outside the West. The two Principal pacts came to be known as the CENTO – formed to keep the former Soviet Union in check. SEATO was formed to act as a bulwark against Mao’s Communist China. Pakistan eagerly joined the two pacts. What had perhaps worked more in the minds of Pakistani leaders was that participation in these pacts could give them an edge against India – which was steadfastly non-aligned in that era of “Cold War” raging  World – with the United States backing them.
Thus began the era of aid giving and the often found practice of American leaders looking the other way to Pakistan’s shenanigans regarding India.

Nevertheless, Pakistan found to its dismay that grabbing Kashmir from India could not be accomplished. The 1965 Indo-Pakistan war ended in an unfavourable stalemate for Pakistan; the 1971 war with India sparked from the revolt of the former Eastern Pakistan; it culminated to the creation of a free, sovereign republic of Bangladesh. In the meantime, American aid continued, and partisan American utterances favouring Pakistan were perennial.   

An anticipated outcome
The next watershed was the Afghan war against Soviet occupation. It continued from about 1980 till 1990. Pakistan became the frontline state in American foreign policy in Afghanistan. Billions of American dollars were given in cash and arms to train and give battle to the Soviet regime in Afghanistan. The Americans looked the other side, even while realizing fully that the Pakistanis were nurturing an Islamic fundamentalist regime as an alternative in Afghanistan, which would be totally subservient to them. After the Soviet-backed regime collapsed in Kabul, internecine fighting commenced between various factions. Out of it incubated the Taliban group; it occupied power in Kabul in 1996.

By then, a fully Pakistan-backed militancy had also begun in the Indian state of Kashmir. After Twin Tower and Pentagon attacks in USA in 2001 the American establishment received a rude jolt. It went after the Taliban and ousted it from power. But, a swinging relationship, marked by support and occasional criticism with Pakistan continued. It was becoming clearer to the Americans about the extent of Pakistani lack of keeping up to their stated desires of combating terrorism.   

Ultimately, the statement from Donald Trump has been an anticipated outcome. It would possibly be better for USA and Pakistan to take a realistic view of the mutual relationship. The necessary correctives would be better visible. What direction it takes would be discerned in the near future.

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