Pakistan – US Relations

By: Air Commodore (Retd) Shahid Kamal Khan S.Bt., T. Bt.

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

It would be fair to say that Pakistan and the United States have arrived at the lowest point in their relationship ever. Every branch of the US Administration appears disenchanted with Pakistan and the American street echoes this sentiment. The same is also true of Pakistan. The All Parties Conference held in Islamabad on 28th of September expressed its disillusionment with Uncle Sam unequivocally and, in doing so, gave official recognition to the widely held and oft stated sentiment of the entire nation.

Where do the two countries go from here? This is the thought that plagues the mind of most individuals. Various analyses are being conducted on a daily basis, publicly, privately, behind closed doors and openly across the media. The national ‘intelligentsia’; advisors, experts, analysts and opinion makers sit across tables putting forth their wisdom. The outcome of these considerably vocal debates and discussions invariably is that the US was out of line in accusing Pakistan and its military; that the nation rallied around its leadership which has then told the Americans off. The US is now furiously backpedalling as it tries to placate it most crucial partner in the war on terror. A superpower is backing down and is desperately seeking to make amends; the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has triumphed; the Americans have recognized our resolve and the two nations shall revert to their old relationship; gradually but surely.

Reality might well be otherwise. To recognize this, one needs to understand the manner in which both nations think and the way their collective minds work. One needs to appreciate the mindset of the two people. First, then, let us identify the Pakistani mindset. Let us look inwards; something we are normally reluctant to do. We shall find that, unlike the citizenry of the United States, each and every Pakistani is actively involved, and exhibits an inordinate interest, in politics and international affairs. Both the literati as well as its teeming millions of illiterate Pakistanis discuss Pak US relations on a daily basis. Each one of us has an enviable amount of national pride and will defend our country, albeit vocally only, to the last breath. Equally pervasive is the fact that every Pakistani has a well-defined love-hate attitude towards the United States; we love its freedom, its advanced stage of development and its position of global dominance and we hate it for exactly these very same attributes. The one unfortunately fatal flaw we have is that our actions are invariably based hugely on emotions that obscure reality. We respond to all events in the same, juvenile manner we have historically done. In the present situation, we shall do likewise; indeed we are already doing so. Cheering, clapping, applauding; the Pakistani nation will congratulate its leaders for having ‘shown eyes’ to the world’s only superpower. We will heap praise on these dubious leaders for standing up to a nation of infidels whose primary aim is the destruction of the Islamic Republic. In doing so we shall conveniently forget that these very same leaders have historically groveled before the US and that a sizeable majority of them still do. True, there are some leaders who are not obsequious to the US, but only because the US will have no truck with them. Those who are denied the US largesse, dance to the tune of others; propagating equal if not more alien policies, religious or cultural beliefs. We shall cheer our leaders even as we recognize that each one of them has the option of departing for the comfort of another shore if the going gets too tough in Pakistan. Dual nationalities, residence visas, alternate homes, children settled abroad; each has his or her means not only to live elsewhere but also to live comfortably spending from the illegal wealth accumulated in secret, offshore accounts. For the Pakistani nation to expect this group of motley characters to do anything except mumble platitudes and beat the histrionic drum over this latest US expression of anti-Pakistan sentiment is expecting too much. Yet we shall persist; only to be disappointed once again; only to yet again look skywards seeking His deliverance fervently. Hoping. Waiting.

Next, let us examine the US mindset. Despite our ardent desire to believe otherwise, the United States has matured as it has reached its position of world dominance. It may have done so in the distant past but Uncle Sam, the United States of America, no longer shoots from the hip. In formulating its response to any situation, it takes time, debates and brainstorms multiple scenarios, weighs all options before it comes up with a set of actions in ascending or indeed, descending order of priority which then constitute its course of action to be implemented according to a carefully constructed plan. Assisting in this process is a huge data base, a multiplicity of inputs, ranging from field intelligence to think tanks, from tourists to space based satellite reconnaissance, from the Peace to the diplomatic corps to assist it in formulation of its grand plan, the ‘strategy’. Indeed, it also has a learning curve that spans two centuries and the strategy it evolves incorporates lessons learnt from past mistakes. Finally, it has massive simulation resources that enable it to ‘war game’ its options and it thereby tweaks the plans as best as it is humanly possible. Various modeling constructs, both electronic and human, play out a huge range of options, injecting hypothetical, even outlandish elements into the ‘game’ in order to develop and refine the final solution.

The immediate and obvious response to this assertion of US capability has to be a very strident ‘false’ followed by a voluminous listing of US misadventures and mistaken decisions. When we do this, we make the grievous mistake of thinking that the United States shoots from the hip; that it plunges blindly into situations of which it has no idea. Do not mistake firing a wrong shot, in the wrong direction, using the wrong weapon as something that equals shooting from the hip. It simply means that in its selection of actions from a multitude of options, the United States has opted for the wrong one in that particular instance. The superpower always retains the ability to correct itself, alter course and pursue its chosen objective in an alternate manner. This is the singular, vital fact that we, the denizens of the third world, fail to assimilate. When US policy falters, we backslap each other, dance with joy and celebrate the misconception that America is doomed.

This is exactly the situation we face in this present impasse. We delight in the misplaced notion that the White House is distancing itself from the comments of Admiral Mullen, conveniently forgetting that this is the very same President that has, not too long ago, sacked a General for expressing an opinion that was not in line with policy. We gloat at the ‘stupidity’ of Admiral Mullen even his Commander in Chief moves him to a better, more important position in national decision making. We delight in the fact that some individuals in the US administration are expressing their regret at alienating Pakistan and choose to ignore the ominous truth that the United States is taking active measures to isolate and pressurize Pakistan even further; militarily, financially and politically. We crow enthusiastically proclaiming that the America will have to turn on the financial tap and military support for our nation even as Congress moves to cut off all aid to Pakistan and considers imposing sanctions. We expect the dollars to flow in even as the greenback hits a record high against the local currency, the nation sinks deeper into debt, the IMF withholds its facility, our industry grinds to a halt and exports slow down to a trickle. We continue complaining bitterly against drone attacks as Hellfire missiles continue to operate deep inside our borders, searching out and destroying terrorist leaders who have taken refuge in our midst. The very same Pakistani media that takes offense against the drone attacks regularly broadcasts their efficacy, highlighting the fact that unsavory Taliban or Al Qaida leaders are being killed on our territory.

And the US encourages us to continue in our delusions. It makes great publicity of the massive aid that it gives to Pakistan even as the promised funds are never delivered. The United States boldly proclaims Pakistan to be its most favored ally in the war against terror while placing serious hurdles in the movement of Pakistani manpower, materials, products and produce into its borders or the borders of those countries that it has influence over. While the US vociferously states that it respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, it continues pounding our countryside with Hellfire missiles, carrying out incursions of troops into Pakistan’s border areas and having its operatives roam Pakistani streets with impunity. When an operation goes awry it refuses to apologize, acting imperially, bulldozing its way without remorse or guilt. It carries out an extremely complex, well-orchestrated raid deep into Pakistan in the pursuit of its aim while the entire nation watches in stunned, confused amazement.

We fail to understand that all this is the American design; these are all actions that are integral elements of their grand plan. Plan, act, evaluate, assess, regroup, switch options, alter course, execute, assess; the process is repeated as often as is necessary with only one, singular constant; the grand aim is always kept in mind. Tactics change but the strategy never does. We are naïve enough to persist in interpreting changes in US tactics as a failure of their grand strategy. We take delight in assuming that the Superpower is faltering, ignoring the fact that the US pursues its grand plan relentlessly, inching closer and closer to its intended goal. As it does so it states what the Pakistani nation wishes to hear while doing exactly what it wants. The sad fact is that we do not have any strategy; any plan. We simply react to events; all our actions are invariably responses, based largely on emotion.

And this how we find ourselves in the position we are in today. A key US individual of considerable authority has made telling charges against Pakistan, its military and its intelligence organization. Admiral Mullen has stated that Pakistan is in bed with an extremist organization, the Haqqani network, and the two are acting in concert against US interests. This accusation has since been reinforced and echoed by each and every official and unofficial forum within the US and indeed the global community. It is reasonable to assume that prior to making these accusations public; the US would have brought this to the notice of Pakistan behind closed doors. Forcing the issue into the public domain is not simply to make Pakistan sever its linkage with a network; any network. It is far more sinister, more ominous. It indicates that the US has decided to raise the stakes in its relationship with Pakistan to another, newer, higher level. ‘Cranking the wheel, taking it up a notch, revving it up’ are Americanisms that apply. The allegation regarding the Haqqani network is meaningless; both nations have too many closets with too many skeletons in each one and any such skeleton could have been used to take the relationship to this new, highly charged, recriminatory level. While we childishly believe that the Americans are asking us to disassociate ourselves with a network that both nations have mutually created, the real truth is that the Americans are now moving another step forward in their grand strategy in pursuit of their eventual aim of winning the global war on terror. A war in which Pakistan is viewed as a major, undeniably effective, participant but aligned perhaps unwillingly but undisputedly with the forces hostile to the United States of America.

Carrot and stick, stick and carrot. Stick. Carrot. Carrot. Stick. Aid. Hellfires. Grants. Sanctions. Handouts. Refusals. Platitudes. Threats. The Haqqani network is just another stick, another threat. Irrespective of the manner in which Pakistan responds, the grand strategy of America will not change. ‘Do more’ will continue to be the US refrain until its end is achieved, the Iraqi ‘stick’ way or the South African ‘carrot’ way. Make no mistake; the US shall achieve its aim. Underestimate the US resolve or fail to recognize the grand US design and be prepared to be rudely surprised.

Have we ever, as a nation, taken time to figure out what the Grand American Design actually is? Just because we do not have any national strategy and blunder from crisis to crisis, we delude ourselves into believing that everyone else also does the same. Have we ever considered that democratizing Iraq and going home was never the grand design? Defeating the Taliban and extricating from Afghanistan is not the end. Killing Osama Bin Laden was not the goal. Shutting down the Haqqani network is not the final solution. Winning the war on terror is but a tactical aim; the grand design is somewhat different. The ultimate aim is and has always been to bring to heel militant Islam; the grand design is to protect itself and the developed world from a totally alien concept of existence. A concept which incidentally is equally alien to the spirit of true Islam; a concept equally abhorrent to those who subscribe to the Muslim faith and those who do not. The real reason for the hiccups in Pak-US relations is the fact that a sizeable percentage of Pakistanis unfortunately subscribe to this corrupt version of Islam.

This is the actual reason for America asking Pakistan to shut down the Haqqani network. It is now asking its ‘ally’ to finally choose sides. We have to decide. Should we go down the path of militant Islam or seek an alternate path, the path enshrined in the noble ideals of the world’s greatest religion? Are we to opt for implementation of the Quranic edict of never befriending the Jews or the Christians or should we pursue the injunction that enjoins Muslims to respect all religions and faiths and permits them to enter into marriage with Jews and Christians? The decision Pakistan has to make is whether it wishes to co-exist peacefully with its fellow human beings, respecting each other’s beliefs and cultures or whether it seeks to ram the perverse philosophy of some of its inhabitants down the global throat? This is the decision we have to make; this is what shutting down the Haqqani network implies.

For too long have we sat on the fence, straddling the options; for too long have we played both sides against the middle. The US is now simply demanding that we climb off the fence. We are now being nudged firmly into choosing sides. We can throw in our lot with the Haqqani network or we can renounce it to join hands with the West and root out militant Islam. Hedging bets, talking, negotiating and dialog will not be acceptable any longer. They do not work; never have and never will. These did not work in Swat, these did not work in Lal Masjid; they never can. Firebrand, militant Islam is a philosophy that seeks neither change nor moderation. It simply cannot; martyrdom and eternal bliss are intrinsically beautiful concepts that overwhelm any possible motivator ordinary mortals can come up with.

The ultimate irony is that it really does not matter which side of the fence Pakistan decides to climb off. Either way, very little shall change for its teeming millions. Becoming a fundamentalist Muslim state or opting for pursuing a worldly policy shall do nothing for the common man or woman. The vast majority of Pakistanis shall continue to live their ordained lives in the manner that they are doing presently; warding off disease, floods and famine, eking out a living from their rural environs, praying, hoping and waiting for their departure to the next world. No one amongst the impoverished majority really cares who sits in the seat of power in Islamabad. No one amongst this huge slice of the Pakistani population has derived any benefit from the billions that has flowed into the country as aid or grant money. This illiterate majority has no interest in a national nuclear program or a modern banking system, it has no stake in its decrepit industrial base, its bankrupt steel mill, its dilapidated railway system or its failing airline.

Nor shall the decision make any difference to the miniscule percentage of affluent Pakistanis. They shall flee the militant Islamic state at the first sign of Pakistan throwing in its lot with the Mullahs. The only segment that will encounter upheaval will be the minority of urban, literate Pakistanis who have nowhere to go or those that cannot leave because they have a stake in this land. These individuals are pragmatic and resilient enough to modify their lifestyles to follow either philosophy. They have done so before and can do so again. They have prayed with Ziaul Haq and partied with Yahya Khan. They have circled the Kaaba with the believers and skinnydipped with the hedonists. They shall adapt, survive and indeed flourish.

A hundred and eighty odd million individuals and eight hundred thousand square kilometers cannot be made to vanish off the face of the earth. Pakistan shall survive and yes, even flourish, irrespective of the choice it makes. But make the choice it must; not because the US wants us to, not because the world wants us to but because we, those who remain committed to this uniquely endowed Islamic state, can plan the future accordingly.

NOTE:The writer is based in Karachi.


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  • GRK  On October 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    what else we can do for 1979-89 and now 2001 to date thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians have died. we must revaluate our policy also same for afghanistan.they are also thank less people. we must arrange shifting of 3.5 million afghans and let our isi,and other intelligence agencies investigate those who got pakistan nationality by paying millions of rupees as bribe. these thugs are involved in drug trafficking,arms,and land grabbing.grk

    • S U Turkman  On October 10, 2011 at 12:35 am

      Oh my God, the sacrifices of Pakistan for thankless USA. Pakistan saved USA 4 times from India, built its Military, gave Charity of Aid and Loans since 1950’s but USA living under protection of mighty Pakistan remains thankless.

  • Ijaz ul Haq  On October 5, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Good article. The author has made effort to prove that we are guilty unless proven innocent. This is the difference in our point of view and what the Americans are writing eg; State sponsored terrorism when the state is of the people by Sibel Edmonds. Mind you we have lost 35,000 innocent lives and lost $100 billion. Was all of this to support the so called Haqqani net work (if there is one) its a fairy tale just like WMD in Iraq and Osama before his death in 2002. Let’s be fair and not believe all what is said to cover the worst defeat in US history.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Warid.

    • S U Turkman  On October 10, 2011 at 12:41 am

      That’s right. Its all a Fairy Tale that India was going to attack us in 1998 and 2002 and USA had stopped India from doing it. It was India that we were going to conquer. USA had stopped us from invading India.
      We never lived off Charity of Aid and Loans from 1953 on. Its a false claim that USA had doubled our GDP and Per Capita Income by 2007 in just 6 years and we had $ 17 billion in Reserves for the first time since birth of our country. We have actually lost $ 100 billion otherwise, our Per Capita Income would have gone higher than USA if our beloved Taliban were still occupying Afghanistan.

  • Minhaj  On October 5, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Who does not want to make choices based on our integrity? However, if the leaders have put it on sale-filling their pockets and crippling the country, who will be safeguarding the country?

    • S U Turkman  On October 10, 2011 at 12:44 am

      Pakistan is still for sale?
      I thought someone had said, it has already been sold to USA. What’s the price?
      I want to buy it.

  • Parvez Amin  On October 5, 2011 at 12:51 am

    A brilliant and flawless analysis. You speak my way and I your way. I am doing something about it. Get in touch Cell 0333 422 7751.

  • Javed Chaudhry  On October 5, 2011 at 9:16 am

    In this piece, Air Commodore [R] Shahid Kamal Khan has commented on many aspects of what has transpired in the AfPak region during the last year. Two most profound areas that he has discussed are, one, lack of Pakistan’s strategy or plans, second, the invincibility of the US in this conflict.
    I agree with the first, Pakistan has indeed no plans or strategy. This can be explained simply because the plans for Pakistan, at least for the foreign policy are not made in Pakistan by Pakistanis, they come down from Washington which support Washington’s needs. Three years ago, it was the US plan for Pakistan army to start military operations in South Wazeristan. The plans for the regime change and the export of the democracy was also planned in Washington by the Bush administration that needed specially designed legal instrument like NRO to accommodate certain people to run for the elections. The Generals like Musharraf and Kyani became just the foot soldiers to implement the Washington plans. Before that, Gen. Musharraf served the Bush administration from 2001-2007 quite cheerfully; partly to get himself recognized as the legitimate ruler of Pakistan, and partly because he was scared out of his wits to save Pakistan from getting bombed back to the stone age. Whatever the case may be, the people in the high offices of Pakistan never had time or capacity and competence to plan for any strategy, they are only too happy in being busy serving their masters in Washington.

    As far as the invincibility of the American empire is concerned, I reject Commodore Khan’s argument on this point. The truth is that the US has already been defeated by the Taliban and now it is trying other avenues that have not been tried as yet. The US wants Pakistan to take military action in North Wazeristan hoping that it will flush Haqqani network out and that may force them to accept the American offer. The US is paddling hard trying its best to offer all sorts of carrots to both the Taliban and the Haqqani group while Pakistan is getting the stick. By doing more for the US, the US might achieve what it is after, but Pakistan will surely be a big loser on all accounts. No matter what Pakistan has sacrificed so far or may sacrifice in future, it will not win a long lasting friendship with the US. The Americans have the history of using others and then discarding them when their services are no longer required. Pakistan has to live in that neighborhood, and it must plan for its own national interest. Serving the US interests after against a friendly neighboring country, Afghanistan, was a huge mistake, but now is the time to correct it. Pakistan must not go into North Wazeristan and also pull out the army from South Wazeristan.

    I disagree with the Commodore Khan’s assertion that the American goal is to fight against the Islamic militancy. The US and NATO countries have geo-political interests in the region. The US would like to have permanent military bases in Afghanistan which is not possible with present state of affairs that has existed in Afghanistan during the last 10 years. Pakistan’s refusal to take part any further in the fraudulent war on terror will certainly force America to pull out of region sooner rather than later. Pakistan will be a big loser if it continues on the same path it has been on during the last10 years.


    • S U Turkman  On October 10, 2011 at 12:49 am

      That’s right. USA came to loot this richest region of the world and if Pakistan keeps kicking her Buttocks through our beloved brothers Taliban greedy USA will have to leave like it has always left. You can see, now there is no US Army in Japan, Germany, Italy, U.K., Norway, Belgium, Holland etc. All of them have advanced and become richer than USA because they kicked USA’s Butts with their secret Sneak Attack Terrorists like Taliban.

  • Nadeem  On October 5, 2011 at 9:54 am

    The truth is bitter, but, is the truth. Pakistan, and Pakistanis, have been slouching towards a very hazy future since partition. The time has come for us to decide which way to go at the fork. It has to start with improvement in governance at all levels. Our house needs to be put in order, without which any choices we make are destined to fail.

    Nadeem Kausar

    • S U Turkman  On October 10, 2011 at 12:50 am

      What do you mean. I thought Pakistan was already a failed state.

  • Hassan Raza Qizilbash  On October 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    The present statements of Mullen are just one act of the overall Drama that is taking place in Pakistan. So far the present regime is one of the most compliant ones, to dte. There is no chance that the Americans would like to lose this easy ride. The momentum that was building up against the corruption of this regime has been broken completely and everything is forgotton and all parties are friends. Can you really imagine the politicos who have millions stashed in foreign accounts would jeopardise their accounts by coming out against the Americans, who have details of how much in each account and how it got there.
    The figure of 96 Billion Dollars being mentioned in informed circles has not come from thin air, it has been leaked as an indicator to the politicos/armed forces to keep on following the directions if they dont want to be shamed with complete details of their accounts.
    The next act will start when the present regime manages to manipulate the vote to remain in power and the western media will endorse the fairness of the vote despite all the rigging. Keep watching the Drama, and adding to the foreign accounts.

    • S U Turkman  On October 10, 2011 at 12:53 am

      Yeah, yeah. This Staged Democracy must end because Zardari had not been as obedient as our Army wants. USA should let Army take over Pakistan because even Staged Democracy reduces income by our Army.

    • pakpotpourri2  On October 7, 2011 at 2:33 am

      The article was submitted by writer exclusively to the blog for publication .

  • Mohammad Chaudhry  On October 9, 2011 at 2:25 am

    A good thought provoking brief with a keen eye for observation, grasp of situation and fairly good peep-in human psychology, for critical avaluation of any move.its implications and complications and long range consquences. While Mr. Khan is fairly right in his comprehensive evaluation of the psyche of aPakistani people and the conduct of its leaders, as well as encompassing all the tools of information, mechanism of their application and subsquent processing of decision making by America as Super Power.Howere he seems to have omitted or at leasted described incompletely the power of American president that results in landing this super power in a series of quagmires, by Bush,a leader with a set of very poor quality of traits or rather almost no positive traits, more driven by whims and obsessions. Though this is not the case in cuurent situation but Obama too is surounded by some of hard-nut Neocons and cornered by myopic,dogmatic and extreme right Republicans,yet he exercises his restraints to the extent he can as in case of handling Irani strife,tug of war with China and outbursts of Muellen in case of Pakistan.Shahid’s closing provide good food for thought for Pakistanis.

    • S U Turkman  On October 10, 2011 at 12:58 am

      USA, the biggest importer of Chinese Goods is also at ‘Tug of War’ with China, the biggest buyer of US Treasury Notes and Bonds?
      “Obama too is surounded by some of hard-nut Neocons and cornered by myopic,dogmatic and extreme right Republicans” …?
      No wonder he has not order bombing of Pak Army yet to solve the Taliban issue in Afghanistan.

  • Flor  On May 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you should write more on this subject matter, it may not be a taboo subject but
    usually people don’t discuss such issues. To the next! All the best!!

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