Positioned at a geo-politically sensitive crossroads, Pakistan has since the 50s served off and on as a “cornerstone of US policy” in the Middle and Near East, joining the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954. With Iraq opting out in 1958, the US-sponsored “Baghdad Pact” (1955) became the now-defunct (1979) Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) comprising non-Arab Muslim countries Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. The economic equivalent of CENTO, the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) turned into the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), eventually growing to eight countries. ECO’s growth was retarded by the sanctions against Iran.
Once the US need for us ended after the Soviet evacuation from Afghanistan in 1989, our relations went downhill when a number of reasons from the early 80s were revived, (1) our suspect nuclear ambitions (2) a haven for drugs manufacturing and smuggling thereof and (3) suspected ISI support for terrorist activity (we narrowly escaped being branded a terrorist state in 1992). Beginning the 90s decade we were an ally, this relationship had undergone a 180 degree turnaround by the time we detonated the nuclear explosion at Chagai on May 28, 1999, sanctions thereafter were mandatory. The revival of the “cornerstone” status again after 9/11 was not surprising, we were needed as the platform for the US war in Afghanistan. The short telephone call from US Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, to General (Pervez) Musharraf got the US our “services” fairly cheap!
The motivated “tilt” towards Pakistan every other decade notwithstanding, there is no such ambiguity about the US now being firmly behind India. Throughout the cold war India vociferously supported the Soviet Union, receiving military hardware exceeding that to any of its Warsaw Pact allies, many times more than US military aid to Pakistan. India vehemently opposed the 80s Afghan war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Ambassador Chester Bowles’s Memo describes his conversations encouraging a rather reluctant Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru during his visit to New Delhi on August 8 and 9, 1961 to flex India’s military muscle beyond its immediate neighborhood to “contain communist China”. To quote US Ambassador to India, Chester Bowles letter to President Lyndon B Johnson on April 14, 1965, “our present military alliance with Pakistan has become irrelevant to the present situation in Asia, this policy was created in a different era to meet totally different conditions. India by virtue of it size, resources, potential and economic potential and geographic location is of great importance to US national interest. India’s domestic and foreign objectives coincide more closely with our (i.e. US) interests than do these of any other major emerging nation “for meeting the threat from Communist China”, ”unquote. Chester Bowles was a key formulator of the so-called “Asian Monroe Doctrine” to extend India’s domination over the Indian Ocean, its neighboring states and South East Asia. Despite the US mostly air-lifting to Calcutta arms and equipment according to the Indian “wish list” for four “mountain” divisions during India’s short China War in 1962 (even the Americans balked at the Indians asking for submarines to fight the Chinese in the Himalayas), India remained firmly aligned behind the Soviet Union in all world forums much beyond the final collapse of the USSR in 1991.
India’s “marriage” with the US would have been consummated had it not been for 9/11. Forced to turn again to Pakistan, the Indian “bride” was left jilted at the altar by the US. In US diplomatic parlance “India is an actor to the US pivot to Asia-Pacific”, it is the “containing of China” plan in more blunt language, promoted in earnest by Obama since 2008, getting added traction after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Were there any doubts left in Pakistani minds about fulfilling Chester Bowles’ dream of supporting India as an American ally and regional super-power after the American President’s Chief Guest appearance at the Republic Day “Armed Forces Parade” in New Delhi? This has now been finally “formalized” by Obama. The US support for India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) while refusing Pakistan shows that the regional exceptionality when dealing with nuclear Pakistan is not a restraining factor for the US anymore.
To quote my article “The Not-So-Ugly Americans” dated Nov 16, 2006, “Those who demonize Americans (in keeping with the personification in Graham Greene’s “The Ugly American”) for the ills of the entire world tend to forget that US govt policies do not accurately reflect either the character and/or wishes of the American public. The most generous people in the world, even today American aid and outright grants dwarfs that of all the other countries. This disconnect between the average US citizen and international geo-politics is not because the ordinary American does not care, he simply knows very little of the world-at-large, an ignorance tailor-made for vested interest to exploit (like Presidential candidate Trump is doing now). With genuine sympathy for the victims of various disasters, the US is always first with the mostest,” unquote. Should we be ungrateful for the Chinook helicopters’ magnificent performance in the 2005 Earthquake and devastating floods of 2010? What other country in the world can compete with such practical large-heartedness?
In the topsy-turvy game of geo-political somersaults, it is expedient for national objectives to coincide in supersession of lesser concerns diametrically opposite in perception. Long-term US realpolitik objectives notwithstanding, we should pursue a more mature friendship with the US, by not “making inveterate friends or inveterate foes among nations”, to quote George Washington the first US President in his farewell address to the nation more than 200 years ago. Viewing each other’s national perceptions and aspirations with dispassion and accommodation, it is important to separate fact from fiction, in the words of John Burroughs, “to treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another”. While it makes no sense to leave the world mainstream and turn to those who can afford the luxury of acting extremist, we could soon run out of choices.
Aware of the Pakistani leadership’s inherent weakness subordinating the national interest to their greed and self-interest, the Americans have never really listened to what Chinese PM Chou En Lai told Kissinger in 1971 July during his ground-breaking historic trip to China, “do not forget the bridge (sic Pakistan) you have used, you may have to use it again”. If the US does not heed the Chinese Proverb, “do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead”, Pakistan may become a “bridge too far” the next time around.
The writer is a defense and security analyst.