Is the rupture in US-Pakistan relations real?

It should be clear even to the most diehard optimists that relations between Pakistan and the United States have hit an all time low. A series of recent events has led to this development although from the very beginning the relationship was based on false premises and unrealistic expectations. The two sides were seldom on the same page even if publicly they claimed they were singing the same tune.

The public rupture came following the US raid on a compound in Abbotabad on the night of May 1–”2 where Osama bin Laden was allegedly hiding and killed. The Americans, including US President Barack Obama, admitted the Pakistanis were not given prior notice even while their sovereignty was so brazenly violated. Despite claiming that Pakistan was a close ally in the War on Terror and that it had a “special relationship” even as a non-NATO member, the Americans did not trust the Pakistanis. Some friend, some ally this America.

This was especially hard for the Pakistani military to swallow since they had claimed that there was close understanding with top US commanders. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has also publicly boasted numerous times about his personal friendship with Pakistan Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Why then did the Americans carry out a raid deep inside Pakistan in such a brazen manner, violating Pakistani sovereignty and did not even extend basic courtesy to its erstwhile ally?

The Pakistani masses have always had deep antipathy toward the US and its brutal policies not only in Pakistan but also against Muslims worldwide. The masses instinctively understand that America is not their friend. They have seen and continue to see evidence of America’s anti-Muslim policies in such places as Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Sudan. Pakistan is also being subjected to US drone attacks that have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths as well as the brutalization of society. Not surprisingly, nearly 70% of Pakistanis consider America to be an enemy. Since the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan has been turned into a war zone with suicide bombings and other killings that have resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

The military top brass has now realized and publicly admitted what was clear to the masses all along. Following the US attack on Abbotabad, US-Pakistan relations came under close scrutiny at the corps commanders meeting in Rawalpindi. According to information that has filtered into the public domain, there was deep anger at the manner in which Pakistan’s sovereignty was violated and how the military was humiliated. There were also pointed questions directed at General Kayani and his close relationship with Mullen. How is it possible for Kayani to claim to have such close relations when they did not even bother to inform him of the raid, the corps commanders asked. Not given to verbosity, unlike his talkative predecessor General Pervez Musharraf, Kayani was nonetheless left speechless. There was even more bad news when he visited troop formations at various garrisons. Not only officers but even rank-and-file of the army were extremely agitated by the US raid. Kayani was subjected to intense grilling. American officials visiting Pakistan following the Abbotabad attack were told in no uncertain terms about the military’s unease.

Kayani has been forced to take several steps to downgrade military cooperation. The US Special Forces training Frontier Constabulary personnel at Warsak near Peshawar have been told to leave. Pakistan also plans to shut down the Shamsi airbase from where US drones are launched for attacks in the tribal area. And on June 14, it was announced that Pakistan had arrested five men, including an army major, Amir Aziz, who were involved in helping the American CIA to monitor the movement of people in and out of the Abbotabad compound. While an army spokesman dismissed the major’s arrest as untrue, there is little doubt that Major Aziz lived near the compound and had refused to talk to the media –” local and foreign –” soon after the May 2 US attack. He could not have remained oblivious of what was going on around the compound.

Despite their brazen disregard for Pakistan’s sovereignty and sensitivity, the Americans continue to indulge in their characteristic arrogance. During congressional hearings on June 15 with outgoing Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, Senator Patrick Leahy said, “Just this morning, we see word that our putative ally arrested five people under the suspicion that they helped the United States to get Osama bin Laden, after publicly saying, of course, they wanted us to get Osama bin Laden.” Leahy’s reference to Pakistan as “our putative ally” reflects the Americans’ arrogant mindset. Gates was more diplomatic and deflected the criticism saying: “Most governments lie to each other. That’s the way business gets done.” Even some of the United States’ closest allies (Jonathan Pollard spying for Israel), he said, “send people to spy on us… That’s the real world we deal with.” Why should CIA agents have a license to prowl all over Pakistan without hindrance?

The Americans also never fail to mention the “$21 billion” given to Pakistan in “aid” since 2001. Both the figure and their explanation are false. The US has not given Pakistan $21 billion; the true figure is close to $12 billion and it is not “aid”. The bulk of this money is for services rendered: use of Pakistani military bases, fuel and food supplies to US troops, the deployment of 120,000 Pakistani troops in the tribal area and transportation of war materials through Pakistan to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. These costs amount to nearly $10 billion. Obviously, the Americans think Pakistan should finance their war in Afghanistan whose cost has exceeded $1 trillion. Further, 30,000 Pakistanis, among them nearly 9,000 military personnel, have died in America’s War on Terror. Among Pakistan’s military losses are two generals, scores of brigadiers, colonels, majors and captains. The Americans clearly believe Pakistani lives are dispensable.

Let us also consider the financial costs to Pakistan. In early June, Pakistan’s finance ministry officials gave details of Pakistani losses as a consequence of the US-imposed war. It amounted to $68 billion. It is beyond comprehension why Americans overlook such Pakistani losses or sacrifices while they prattle about their alleged $21 billion “handout” to Islamabad. Pakistani military losses far outnumber the combined total of all US-NATO losses in Afghanistan since 2001. Why should Pakistan pay such a heavy price and still be accused of “not doing enough”? Gratitude is not one of America’s strongest points.

While the crisis in relations provides Pakistan an opportunity to break loose of America’s deathly embrace, some officials claim Islamabad’s precarious economic situation does not allow for a total break. True, the economy is in doldrums but one must ask why. In addition to mindboggling corruption, there is also the extravagant lifestyle to which the Pakistani elite have become accustomed. Most live beyond their means. It is this lifestyle and the endemic corruption that have brought Pakistan to this sorry state. The masses have never benefitted from any aid that has come to Pakistan. Its external debt is nearly $60 billion but any honest Pakistani ruler would be within his legal rights to declare it “odious debt”.

This is not a new concept; it was first used by the Americans at the end of the 19th century when they repudiated debt incurred by Cuba after they drove the Spaniards out in 1898. The Americans argued, successfully, that this debt had been incurred by Cuba’s rulers without the consent of the masses and that it had not been used for their benefit. The people of Cuba, therefore, had no obligation to repay it.

Pakistan can make an even stronger case about the odious debt it has incurred. Why should the masses repay money about which they were never consulted regardless of the amount of debt incurred? If the money has been pocketed by corrupt officials, then donors are free to go after them.

Regrettably, Pakistan is unlikely to wean itself away from American money even while the latter is on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite the mistrust, the two countries last month created what they call a “joint counterterrorism task force” to oversee US operations in Pakistan. This came about in the aftermath of US allegations that elements within the Pakistani military had tipped off militants after the CIA provided intelligence on May 19 about two Taliban bomb factories in the tribal area. When Pakistani forces launched an operation on June 4, they did not find the factories or the militants. Were there really bomb making factories or was it just another false allegation by the Americans to reinforce the perception that the Pakistanis cannot be trusted? Given America’s past behaviour, the new taskforce will simply be used by the Americans as a license to continue their illegal operations in Pakistan.

If Pakistan wants, it can really tighten the screws on the US. Their Afghan operations are almost entirely dependent on Pakistan. Try as they may, they have not found alternate supply routes for their forces or those of their NATO allies in Afghanistan. Pakistan can leverage its strategic position by demanding a fair price for transporting goods to US-NATO forces. Further, Islamabad should leverage its influence by extracting serious concessions from the Americans to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The Americans desperately want to get out; they have been completely defeated and their troops are demoralized. Why should Pakistan allow itself to be bullied into fulfilling their demands?

If the Americans play hardball, so can Pakistan but the big question is, will it? Available evidence suggests that it will not stand up for its rights regardless of how much humiliation the Americans heap on it. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, described by many observers as America’s lobbyist in Pakistan, says “there are points of friction [between Washington and Islamabad], but there is no breakdown.” He seems to be following his own policy independent of Pakistan’s stated objectives. Haqqani has his eye on his future job. He knows once Asif Ali Zardari is out of the presidency, Haqqani would be out in the street. He wants to stay in the US. His neocon patrons will give him a high paying job so that he can continue to serve their interests. Pakistan’s tragedy is that there are too many opportunists pursuing their personal careers at the expense of their country’s interests. Haqqani was instrumental in issuing hundreds of visas without security checks to CIA operatives masquerading as businessmen. These operatives have caused havoc in Pakistan. The Raymond Davis affair was merely the tip of the iceberg. How many CIA operatives are still active is anyone’s guess. Haqqani and his boss Zardari have a lot of explaining to do. Last month Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani also publicly called for a resumption of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue following meetings with Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides. This was suspended several months ago because of US displeasure over the Davis affair.

While America publicly humiliates Islamabad, Pakistani officials still want a strategic dialogue with it. One wonders whether they are capable of ever learning?