US policy towards Pakistan is fast bordering on the absurd – the realities of power notwithstanding. On the one hand, the US relationship with Pakistan has degenerated into a one-way traffic of punitive measures, which are being dished out almost on a daily basis – or so it would seem, and here the perception is as important as the reality on the ground! On the days that there is no negative action against Pakistan by the US Administration, there will be news of some US-based study or the other, which condemns Pakistan for all manner of ills. The latest such report has obviously run out of individual ailments and has simply declared that Pakistan has the worst of everything.
On the other hand, a state which has been condemned as being the worst of the worst (by no less an agency than the CIA – and we know what the CIA does to such states! Remember Allende’s Chile many decades earlier?), is also being asked, again on almost a daily basis, to do this or that US bidding. If it is not a demand to disown the Taliban and hand over Osama, it is direct intervention in the country’s internal affairs – be it in relation to the religious parties or the nuclear programme (funny how the Indian nuclear programme seems to have been missed entirely by the same agitationers of the US) or even the economy. The latest demand to come down has been for Pakistan to sign the children’s treaty (Hague Convention on Children) and the accompanying accusation that Pakistani parents were “abducting” their US nationality holder children. At the same time, the US government failed to cite any such case. Of course, the US would never think that US nationals might also be guilty of “abducting” children born to a mixed marriage between a Pakistani and an American. Yet such cases abound where American mothers have kept their children in the US forcibly away from their Pakistani fathers. European mothers do the same. There is an inherent – though blatantly false – assumption that a child would prefer the US/European way of life. This is as blatant a case of racism – almost bordering on the racial superiority policies of the Nazis.
In any event, why should Pakistan listen to the US demands? Because they are powerful? That may be the case, but since Pakistan is already the most sanctioned-against state – in terms of US-sanctions at least, although in terms of UN-sanctions other Islamic states like Iraq would win by a huge margin – there is not much more left for the US to do in punitive terms. Of course, they could send the marines/special services in directly – already some press reports are suggesting that 150 of them are here around the Tarbela area – but they would find it difficult to make much headway. Grenada was many continents away! As for getting tough economically through the IMF and the World Bank – that would go against their own economic interests. Also, they are using the IMF quite effectively to destroy our agricultural sector so that we are forced to take in the West’s agricultural surplus. So there is not much more damage the US can do to Pakistan that is not already underway, especially with the UN monitors and the fallout that may result.
However, there is a great irony surrounding the latest request from the US for Pakistan to sign the Hague Convention on Children. This particular Convention has 51 states party to it but most of these, barring about five, are white, Western states. Amongst the many US allies in the south, India and Saudi Arabia are not party to it but one has seen no demand from the US go to these states! But the irony is that there is also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most universally accepted treaty in human history. There are only two states that have not become party to it: Somalia and the United States of America. And there is more to this American absurdity: Presently, at the UN in New York, the UN member states are trying to negotiate and prepare a Final Document for the upcoming UN Special Session on Children and the US is singularly insisting that this document should have no mention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child! Can anything be more tragically absurd?
While Pakistan cannot ignore the realities of power, there is nothing to prevent it from making public the contradictions and absurdities of the major powers in terms of prevailing international norms and treaties. After all, even the power flexing states seek shelter in these norms!
This pressure on Pakistan to concede on so many fronts has been aggravated from within the country by those who would have Pakistan make all the concessional moves – without examining whether there are any benefits from such compromises. For instance, there are now moves within Pakistan’s elite to push for Pakistan making concessions to India on trade, etc at the Musharraf-Vajpayee Summit in New York. Why should Pakistan do so in the face of increasing Indian bellicosity and hardening of the Indian position not only on Kashmir but also in general towards Pakistan. Throughout the post-Agra period, Pakistan maintained a silent posture in the face of India’s aggressive posturing. But there has been no response in kind from India and even leading up to the Summit, India has simply upped the belligerent ante. So on what basis should Pakistan concede to the Indian stance of not focusing on Kashmir? Concessions have to be reciprocal, so why do we always demand that Pakistan always make the first moves?
This is not to say that Pakistan must adopt a rigid posturing in negotiations and dialogue. Nor has Pakistan done so. Even at Agra, the Pakistani side adopted a very flexible, holistic approach to the Pakistan-India relationship and even Kashmir. In the case of the latter, Pakistan was prepared to move beyond the UN resolutions and wanted to mutually discard positions on Kashmir totally unacceptable to either side – so that dialogue could begin on a flexible note. As for the overall Pakistan-India relationship, Pakistan maintained that dialogue could be conducted on other issues simultaneously, but that final progress on other issue was directly linked to some progress on Kashmir. This is a far more pragmatic approach than the segmented Indian approach, which seeks to discuss only one or two issues from the “basket” of issues earlier agreed to for the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. It is this approach Pakistan should maintain in New York and let the Indians now respond in kind in terms of flexibility and concessions – the latter should be substantive not simply for scoring media points as happened prior to Agra.
All in all, it is time that we in Pakistan stopped being overwhelmed by the global “realities of power” on issues such as sanctions, peacekeeping, international treaties and so on. Yes, there are these realities but there are also international norms, a UN Charter that has not been formally discarded, and very real limitations to the exercise of these “realities” of power. We also need to make our own people and the power flexers realize the contradictions and absurdities of the latter laying claims to international morality and norms. Naked power plays, at the very least, must be exposed for what they are.
At some point, even the most loyal of allies of the powerful will reach the end of their tether. This is already beginning to happen in the Middle East where the US is tolerating all manner of violence and abuse being unleashed by Israel on to the Palestinians. This has driven even the most cautious of states like Saudi Arabia not only to condemn US policy but also to show their disapproval in more substantive terms with the Saudi Chief of Staff General Salah al-Muhaya cancelling his trip to Washington DC. Given the intimate military relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia as well as a high level of military dependency of the Saudis on the US, this move is of great significance. The manner in which the US is choosing to go for unabashed power plays in this region may well lead to its increasing isolation. An isolated power will find its options undermined so that it may only have the option of having to use naked power more and more – and that, in today’s interdependent world, will achieve less and less in real terms.