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India is Pakistan’s eternal enemy, US’ future best friend. How can US & Pak be allies?

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Americans must acknowledge that an alliance with Pakistan cannot survive the absence of shared goals. Trump’s policy is a step in that direction.

Much of the discussion in the international media over US President Donald Trump’s first tweet of 2018 accusing Pakistan of “lies and deceit”, and the subsequent suspension of security assistance, has been along familiar lines. Some Trump critics have focused on the lack of decorum and diplomacy in his tweet, while others have described Pakistan as an “Endlessly Troublesome Ally” before cautioning against walking away from Pakistan.

Pakistan’s conduct may be bad, but the ‘we have no alternative’ crowd argues against public remonstrations and cutting off aid, insisting on variations of the decades-old policy of trying to change Pakistani behaviour through incentives.

In an article, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, makes a point similar to one made by me, most recently in The American Interest magazine: The United States and Pakistan must acknowledge that they are not really allies, and doing so might make it easier for both to deal with one another.

Pakistan has, of course, been useful for the United States since the early days of the Cold War, and most Pakistanis see American economic and security assistance as payment for that usefulness. But a transaction is very different to having shared national interests. Most allies have a shared enemy or a common goal. They can have differences but not on such fundamental questions as identifying enemies.

Currently, the US wants to eliminate global terrorism; Pakistan prefers to selectively use terrorists as an instrument of regional influence. America has invested blood and treasure to build a modern multi-ethnic Afghanistan; Pakistan wants a government in Kabul dominated by ethnic Pashtun Islamists, such as the Afghan Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network.

Above all, Americans consider the rise of India as being in their interest as a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific; Pakistan considers China an all-weather friend and sees India as an eternal enemy.

The real reason American Presidents get frustrated is having to weigh between the value of Pakistani intelligence and logistical support for troops in Afghanistan against its consistent support for Jihadi terrorists and the assumption that Pakistan is an American ally.

Unlike his predecessors, Trump seems to have decided against putting up with a situation in which American troops die in Afghanistan at the hands of Taliban fighters aided by an ostensible American ally receiving substantive US economic and military assistance.

Bureaucrats in the US State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon often see facilities that make their job easier – access to senior officials, a timely piece of intelligence, low-cost transportation of equipment and material for troops in the field – as the same thing as America’s national interest. For them, the debate about how to engage with Pakistan is often about walking away and losing the facilities or unconditionally giving aid.

But can there be a real alliance when the core interests of two countries simply do not converge?

No one would disagree that Pakistan’s national interest is defined by its powerful military-intelligence services, is supported by most of its political elite, and is confined by an India-centric worldview. Pakistani support for the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and the assorted Jihadi terrorists is all a byproduct of real, exaggerated, or imaginary fears of the Pakistani establishment about India’s ‘designs’ for the region.

The phenomenon is not new. As early as 1957, US ambassador to Pakistan James Langley had observed that the US-Pakistan relationship was based on “a hoax”. In his view, the US was helping build the Pakistani military in the hope of using it against the Soviet Union and global communism, while the Pakistanis wanted only to enhance their military capabilities against India with US assistance.

Langley, editor and publisher of the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, was not a career State Department professional. He did not believe, as the professionals did, that Pakistan’s usefulness in providing listening posts and a base for U-2 reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union somehow sufficed to make it an American ally.

His concerns that US aid was only helping create a dysfunctional Pakistan focussed narrowly on rivalry with India turned out to be correct. President Lyndon B. Johnson had to suspend aid after Pakistan went to war against India in 1965, but the American penchant for seeing operational facilities as the foundation of an alliance did not end.

As staging ground for Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s, Pakistan reprised its role as facilitator for US policy without convergence of core interests. US officials overlooked broken Pakistani promises over development of nuclear weapons because, on balance, they saw advantage in creating a Vietnam-like situation for the Soviets. But once the Soviets left Afghanistan, the clash of interests came to the fore again.

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan did not mark the end of Jihad for Pakistan but the beginning of an opportunity to expand terrorism to Kashmir and even India. After 9/11, the US offered a new bargain. It would pay Pakistan to fight the Jihadis and to allow American use of Pakistan’s ground and air space to wage war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Although Presidents Bush and Obama both saw Pakistan playing a double game, supporting the Taliban even as it assisted the United States, they preferred not to risk a breach in the relationship.

American assistance given in the hope of persuading Pakistan’s generals to change their strategic vision has only reinforced their ability to pursue what they define as their national interest. In the process, Pakistan’s military strength has grown but the country’s human development has suffered. For example, one of the world’s largest number of out-of-school children currently lives in Pakistan.

A tighter embrace of China is unlikely to help Pakistan overcome a one-to-ten difference in economic size with India, or the absence of an educated workforce. Eventually, Pakistan would have to recognise that it needs a national purpose other than endless competition with India, and that supporting Islamist terrorists will not end asymmetry of power in South Asia.

Until then, Americans must acknowledge that an alliance cannot survive the absence of shared goals. Trump’s policy is a step in the direction of that acknowledgement. It would raise the cost to Pakistan of its current policies, and might get greater cooperation from Islamabad than unconditional assistance and quiet diplomacy has secured.

The US had faced a divergence of strategic ends with an erstwhile partner in the aftermath of the Second World War, and dealt with it very differently with considerable success. Then, the Soviet Union threatened US interests after fighting alongside the Americans against the Nazis.

At that time, progressives such as Henry Wallace argued that the US must reason with the Soviets and carry on the alliance forged during the war. President Truman, however, recognised the need to contain Soviet ambitions in Europe, a position that became the basis of a bipartisan consensus for decades to come.

Pakistan is admittedly not the potential superpower rival to the United States that the Soviet Union was. But the principle that allies cease to be allies once their interests diverge is as applicable to South Asia as it was to Europe, and the rest of the world, in 1945-47.

American and Pakistani interests can converge only when one of the two countries changes its definition of its interests in Afghanistan, in relation to terrorism, and about China’s primacy in the Indo-Pacific.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His forthcoming book is ‘Reimagining Pakistan‘.

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  1. Forgot the footnote (designated by “***”) — that term was formed in 2010 by Brigitte Gabriel (Maronite from Marjayoun, Lebanese village about 12 km north of Israel border) founder of ActForAmerica, due to the high-volume (exceeded that of US, UK, Australia, Canada and India COMBINED) of searches originating in that country for pornographic materials (as well as the PRODUCTION of such by Taliban based there — which 0bl was killed editing in 2011).

  2. Just how hard is it for Pakistan to “try” a new “India-policy” for, say, just a decade? Will it be to much for Pakistan to give up hostilities and embrace cooperation? What if it really changes the fortunes of Pakistan?

    Just some possibilities, some foods for thought.

    • “Just how hard is it for Pakistan to `try` a new `India-policy`…” — answering only this portion (without the time-specific test), that would require a change in its educational (read “indoctrination” — the anti-India spews in Pornistani*** schools has been well-documented by BBC and MEMRI) system, and indeed the entire mindset; it amounts to a “subtle” admission that the country was founded on the worst-of-worst taqia, the “islam is in danger” canard!

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