U.S. – Pakistani relationship ignores Pakistan’s needs

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

“What kind of ally is Pakistan?” screams a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, as it brashly flaunts the futility of the U.S.’s “ally in the war on terror” to the new American administration, mocking over five decades of U.S.–Pakistan relations.

I wonder too. What kind of ally objects to being bombarded with massive drone attacks, launched by American unmanned Predator drones? I mean, how completely illogical of Pakistan to, for once, stand up for the lives and rights of its own population, rather than become enslaved by its “ally’s” historically disastrous foreign policy. How unreasonable of the U.S.’s “most allied ally” (as famously termed by Pakistan’s first military ruler and former president Field Marshal Muhammed Ayub Khan) to say that, no, you cannot keep fumbling around for terrorists on our land and shooting down our civilians. For heaven’s sake, why can’t Pakistan strike a magical balance between the transition to democracy and submission to U.S. political and military agendas? What kind of an ally is Pakistan?

The answer to that question is camouflaged in the wilderness of historic events from the Cold War to the current “war on anything remotely un-American” (pun intended).

Containment policy lit the first spark in U.S.–Pakistan relations. Emerging from the influential Truman Doctrine, the policy aimed to restrict Soviet influence in Asia by creating military pacts and political blocs in and around the continent. Urged by the U.S., several Asian countries, including Pakistan, were bundled in a collective defense pact called the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). This alliance was attractive to Pakistan because its status as a pro-Western country would gain it support when in conflict with India. While ostensibly two-way in theory, these pacts were designed to benefit the U.S. only and actually stopped the other country from defending itself from aggression by any country that the U.S. did not determine to be its enemy. Not surprisingly, this obvious imbalance did not initially come under protest by Pakistan, so long as American economic aid kept flowing in and the armed forces kept receiving their military hardware, along with the rest of the benefits that were sealed under SEATO. No wonder the authors ponder — what kind of ally is Pakistan?

It was also during this time that Pakistan, in a misguided demonstration of loyalty and friendship, allowed the U.S. to build two military bases in Pakistan that were used to spy over the Soviet Union and communist China. In 1960, from one of these bases, Badaber, in the North West Frontier Province, Francis Gary Powers took off to spy over the USSR and got shot down by Soviet anti-aircraft missile systems inside Soviet territory. This prompted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to place a red circle on the city of Peshawar in Pakistan and declare that unless the U.S. packed up its base and left, he would obliterate the entire city, leaving it to the imagination of his audience as to what type of weapon he would use to achieve this aim. The U.S. duly left Peshawar after this embarrassing episode, and Pakistan was left alone to pay the price when in 1971 the Soviet Union backed India to the hilt to dismember Pakistan forever. Furthermore, the U.S. also demonstrated immense support for Pakistan’s longtime rival, India, in terms of its economic and military growth. In an attempt to make up for this, the U.S. promised Pakistan that it would consult its anti-Soviet ally before any aid was allocated to India. However, once again the U.S. turned its back on this promise by committing military aid to India, shortly before a flaming war raged between India and Pakistan in 1965. The hostilities lasted only 17 days, but forever shattered the myth of the neutrality of U.S. leaders and policymakers. Almost all of India’s military hardware providers continued to arm India while Pakistan’s principle supplier, the U.S., clamped an arms embargo on it. The excuse was Pakistan’s growing nuclear program, which was perceived as a threat to India and Israel — India being the U.S.’s new heir to progressive democracy and Israel its recipient of military and economic aid since World War II. So apt is the question, what kind of ally is Pakistan?

Come the post-9/11 era, and the U.S. once again begins stirring this cyclical friendship with Pakistan as it seeks its full cooperation in the war on terror. This time, however, Pakistan is propelled to fight a war on its own land, against its own people. Last Friday, at least 20 people were killed by drone strikes near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. While Defense Secretary Robert Gates circulates the falsity that U.S. attacks on its land are blessed by Pakistan, Islamabad publicly denied Gates’ claim, with Prime Minister Yousef Gilani clearly saying that there is no such agreement between the two “allies.”

These were the first hits to the region authorized by President Barack Obama, and probably not the last. This year alone, over 300 civilians have been the targets of both manned and robotic American military assaults on their own soil, particularly in the Swat valley, a once scenic district in the northern areas of Pakistan. The transition in Washington has not affected U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan but in one facet: Unlike former President Bush, who believed in stabbing the enemy (or friend?) in the back, Obama believes in a head-on collision. Obama stated up-front in his campaign that Pakistan was a key target in combating terrorism, so while the civilian deaths sadden me, they do not come as a surprise. What is indeed baffling is the existing incompetence of the American intelligence. Why, and how, does U.S. intelligence fail to accurately distinguish militants from civilians? Militant groups are on a rampage, blowing up U.S. supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan, while the U.S. is blindly attacking civilian homes. Why are these militants not identified in advance by the U.S.? However, as it it sleeps through the destruction of key supply routes, the U.S. deems it necessary to express uneasiness over the release of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program and a “rogue bombmaker,” to the West. No wonder then, preoccupied by non-issues, the most technologically advanced and sophisticated U.S. intelligence network falls short in identifying militant hideouts even after repeated attempts.

While Pakistan continues to be a front player in the U.S.’s conflicts all around the world, it never finds its ally — and the most powerful nation in the world — by its side when in need. Not only do such double standards in an alliance defy international norms, they also churn anti-American sentiments among Pakistanis, and thus blot the big picture of U.S.–Pakistan relations. Obama’s administration needs to learn a lesson from this history of one-sided alliances and ensure U.S. loyalty (if it is to call Pakistan an ally) to the country at times of crisis and when justified. These airstrikes only boost hatred toward the American government and drive the ordinary citizen who has lost everything to the doorsteps of religious fundamentalists. These fundamentalists then arm them ideologically and economically, setting their mind to “revenge” mode.

The surprise raids that kill hundreds of innocent civilians pose no less threats than those that external terrorists pose to the U.S. soil. It is akin to rendering the U.S. Department of Homeland Security useless by stripping it of all their power to protect citizens. Since the onset of the “war on terror,” Pakistan has sent over 100,000 of its military troops into the threatening abyss of the northern tribal areas. Yet it is accused of being an unreliable ally. Perhaps for the first time, the U.S. and Pakistan seem to share a common goal — ousting terrorist networks from Pakistani land. A blatant disregard of Pakistan’s masses is sure to jeopardize this effort. At this point, before setting out on a road to nowhere, the U.S. needs to ask itself the question: What kind of ally is Pakistan?