Convenient amnesia

In the wake of the very successful American covert operation, which culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden, the US-Pakistan relationship again appears to be at crossroads. Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in the land, has expressed his anger and frustration about not being alerted to the raid in advance.

President Asif Ali Zardari has spoken and written bitterly about the violation of his country’s sovereignty. Various other senior Pakistani officials, both elected and otherwise, have chimed in about how they would like to limit counter-intelligence and counterterrorism co-operation with the United States.
Bluntly put, much of this overheated rhetoric is exactly that and little else. It is almost solely intended for domestic political consumption and is reminiscent of what a noted American political scientist, Murray Edelman, characterised as dramaturgy. The public hyper-ventilation reassures a sceptical and distrustful domestic constituency that Pakistan’s politico-military order is genuinely outraged over the wilful American decision to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and carry out a bold and effective counterterrorism operation of extraordinary magnitude.
Despite all the high drama, in the end, both the civilians and the military know only too well that they can ill-afford to significantly curtail, let alone terminate, this extremely lucrative relationship of convenience, one that has prevented Pakistan from defaulting on its global financial commitments and has kept the military establishment in clover since the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
Contrary to the claims of a host of apologists for the Pakistani military establishment in Washington, DC, and in a number of other Western capitals, the Pakistani military has never wholly embraced their concerns about Islamist terror. Instead, as reams of evidence keep mounting, it is becoming increasingly plain that they have consistently played a double game. They have offered up a few terrorist prizes to ensure, to again resort to Edelman’s terms, political quiescence in Washington, DC. However, once the exigencies of aid renewal have passed, they have again fallen back on their time-tested ways and continued their alliance with specific terrorist organisations.
It is curious that any sensible and informed observer of Pakistan would find this nefarious and duplicitous behaviour on the part of the Pakistani military, and to a degree their civilian counterparts, to be entirely surprising or shocking. From the genesis of the US-Pakistan relationship, the goals and interests of the two countries have been at odds. This divergence is of long standing. As early as 1954, when the Eisenhower administration was deftly inveigled into forming a military pact with Pakistan, the two states have had different strategic concerns. Pakistan forged that military alliance not because of its staunch opposition to Communist expansion. Instead, as is well known, the principal purpose was to balance Indian power. Of course, when the US refused to back Pakistan in the 1965 war and imposed an embargo on both states, the military establishment cried foul leading to an estrangement that lasted several years. Once again, in 1971, the military as well as the civilians felt betrayed because the Nixon administration, after having used Pakistan as a conduit for its China opening, proved to be less than forthright in condoning the Pakistan Army’s carnage in East Pakistan.
This relationship of convenience was again renewed during the time of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. In fairness, however, the otherwise scrofulous military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, had both the intelligence and sagacity to describe the renewed bond as “a handshake and not an embrace”. However, after his still mysterious death in a plane crash in 1988, and the termination of US aid within the next two years, the same, age-old Pakistani recriminations started to come to the fore. The US, having accomplished its goal of ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan had, once again, abandoned its staunch and reliable ally, Pakistan. Few, if any, Pakistani policymakers or analysts cared to recall Zia’s very apt characterisation of the US-Pakistan relationship in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet invasion.
Their plaintive cries were so frequent and persistent that many gullible individuals within US policy circles started to argue that there was some credence to the Pakistani position. The US had indeed walked away from Pakistan once its strategic objective of ousting the Soviets had been met. None amongst them cared to ponder that the relationship had been renewed solely for that purpose and little else. More to the point, Pakistan and especially its military apparatus, had been handsomely compensated for their troubles.
Today, after Bin Laden’s demise and the revelation of his lair in the bosom of the Pakistan Military Academy, some of the same recriminations about the American role during and after the Afghan war are again coming to the fore. Senior Pakistani politicians have been beating their chests in Parliament and roundly berating the United States for having supported a host of unsavoury individuals and groups when they proved willing to help dislodge the Soviets from Afghanistan. Once again, there is a studied amnesia about Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate’s role in funnelling American assistance to these entities and in choosing favoured acolytes. Nor is there any willingness to acknowledge that the organising, nurturing and supporting of these groups were in the perceived self-interest of the Pakistani military which wanted to eventually install a pliant regime in Afghanistan.
Sadly, this mutual unwillingness to acknowledge that little else other than strategic convenience undergirds the US-Pakistan relationship has been its bane from its very inception to the present day. After the current fanfare within Pakistani policy-making quarters, designed to appease Pakistan’s aggrieved domestic political constituency, comes to a close, one can well expect the politico-military establishment to again curry favour in Washington, DC. In turn, those within the administration seeking a graceful exit from Afghanistan will yet fall prey to the subtle entreaties from Islamabad about its incapacity to carry out further counter-terrorist operations without more infusions of American economic assistance and access to key military technologies. Unless US policymakers hark back to multiple episodes of Pakistani duplicity, the same tragic cycle of divergent goals, questionable promises and mutual recriminations will ensue.

Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Centre on American and Global Security at Indiana University,
Bloomington

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