Pakistan has the geopolitical advantage of being a friend of China as well as a close partner of the US
Pakistan has entered into an alliance and strategic partnership with the US three times in the past six decades. The tendency to embrace and re-embrace each other has always been a two-way street. Seldom is any such relationship without an element of give-and-take or one-sidedness in costs and benefits. Pakistan needed American economic and military assistance to build itself after independence. The US wanted allies in this region to counter the ‘expansionist’ designs of the Soviet Union and communist China. There are many critics of Pakistan’s initial tilt towards the US. They indulge in plenty of rhetoric, but give little evidence of any alternative available to Pakistan at that point, which could have offered us credible assistance.
In my view, our partnership with the US and rest of the Western allies served our purpose of state- and nation-building at a very critical juncture in our history. While there is too much focus on the military part of the assistance, the economic aid we received, facilitating the first phase of industrialisation and economic development, is owed to our Western allies, notably the US. The counter-narrative of foreign policy choices — looking towards Muslim states of the Middle East — was as bogus then as it is today. At that stage, they, being dependent on the US for security, could offer us very little in terms of any assistance. The radical Middle Eastern states had indirectly, and in some cases, directly, aligned with the Soviet Union and were dependent on its bloc for security assistance.
No relationship is an enduring one; if there is anything lasting in state-to-state relationships, it is the national interest. This is time-tested wisdom that many statesmen around the world have expressed eloquently. As the Cold War gave way to detente, the US reworked its regional priorities. So did Pakistan. The importance of good ties with China, a big neighbouring state, was never lost on Pakistan even in the heyday of the Cold War. It went ahead with this relationship, despite US objections and some mild sanctions.
Both wars in Afghanistan meant to change regimes; one initiated by the Soviet Union and the other by the US to replace the Taliban. Both brought the US into a strategic partnership with Pakistan. The third partnership has seen many rough patches, disappointments and plenty of the blame game from both sides. The tendency of the big powers is to blame others for their failures. If the US and every one of its allies from every corner of the world have failed to create a stable, peaceful and unified Afghanistan, it is blamed on the failure or unwillingness of Pakistan to cooperate and ‘do more’. There are other reasons that are more proximate, accurate and historically correct than the one that states that the US, Pakistan or a combination of forces did not do enough. These reasons include the history, the geography, the peoples, the ethnicities and the warlords of Afghanistan, represented as ‘national liberators’. Put together, all these reasons created a quagmire — the ‘graveyard of empires’.
The present situation in Afghanistan, the worsening political, social and security climate of the Middle East and the rising power of radicalism and militancy there are good enough reasons for strengthening the Pakistan-US partnership. We have common interests in maintaining stability and a good security order in the extended Middle East. Despite many problems, which are self-created and inflicted by 36 years of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains a resilient society and a strong state in this region. It has been able to absorb the worst of the war on terror.
We live in a world of multiple partnerships. Pakistan has the geopolitical advantage to be a friend of China as well as a close partner of the US to advance its interests. In an age of pragmatism, that is the right policy to pursue.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2015.
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