Forging Pak-US Relations
20 June, 2005
By Shahid Saleem Afzal
The United States and Pakistan established diplomatic relations in 1947, at the time of Pakistan's independence. Since then Pakistan has historically remained allied to the US. In July 1971, Pakistan facilitated the secret trip of Kissinger to China. The trip was the basis of end to suspicions between the two countries and opened a new chapter of US-China relationship.
Though Pakistan has always maintained a tilt towards the US, the relationship has witnessed several upheavals over the years. The US imposed various sanctions against Pakistan from time to time. The U.S. suspended military assistance to Pakistan during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, generating a widespread feeling in Pakistan that the United States was not a reliable ally. In 1979, the United States cut off economic assistance to Pakistan under the Symington Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, due to concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 highlighted the common interest of Pakistan and the United States in peace and stability in South Asia. In 1981, the United States and Pakistan agreed on a $3.2-billion military and economic assistance programme aimed at helping Pakistan deal with the heightened threat to security in the region and its economic development needs. Pakistan assisted the US in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan with the help of mujahideen. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed soon thereafter, the Americans swiftly packed up their bags and left Pakistan and Afghanistan to clear up the mess of their proxy war. Soon after, on October 1, 1990, the United States suspended all military assistance and new economic aid to Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment, which required that the President certify annually that Pakistan 'does not possess a nuclear explosive device.'
The conduct of nuclear tests by India in May 1998 and Pakistan's matching response set back U.S. relations with Pakistan. The relationship improved significantly once Pakistan agreed to support the U.S. campaign to eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan and to join with the United States in the Global War on Terror. Since 2001 Pakistan has provided extraordinary assistance in the war on terror by capturing and turning over to the United States more than 500 al-Qaida members. Pakistan's war against terrorism is central to stability in Afghanistan. The US has realised that pursuance of its policies in South Asia is not possible without the assistance of Pakistan. US government officials have reiterated time and again that the present relationship will be of long term unlike the past. Both countries are now working to change the relationship into a strategic partnership.
Stability in the region is much related to prosperity and improved security in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US can assist Pakistan in achieving the goal and making the mutual interests of both countries materialize. There are a number of areas in which the US can help Pakistan in creating a better understanding between the two countries and promoting stability in South Asia.
Kashmir Issue. Kashmir has been a bone of contention between Pakistan and India. Both countries have opened a new chapter by initiating confidence building measures. The relations between the countries have never been so cordial. But durable peace in South Asia hinges on the resolution of the Kashmir Dispute in light of the Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Pakistan effectively checked Indian machinations to brand the indigenous Kashmir's struggle for independence as an issue of "cross-border terrorism," in an attempt to exploit the prevailing anti-terrorism sentiment in the world. Pakistan has asserted that there is no cross border terrorism in Kashmir. The indigenous struggle of the Kashimiri people against the illegal Indian occupation for more than five decades is being brutally crushed by the Indians with the worst human rights record in South Asia.
Prof. Marvin G. Weinbaum, a US analyst from the Middle East Institute, Washington, has said that a peaceful solution to the 57-year old Kashmir dispute won't be possible without any US involvement in the matter. According to 'The News,' Weinbaum while speaking at a national seminar on 'Emerging World Order and Pakistan-US relations' organised by the Foundation for Research on International Environment, National Development and Security (FRIENDS), said that since terrorism in South Asia was intrinsically linked to the Kashmir problem, hence any effort to root out terrorism without solving Kashmir would not succeed. The same views have been expressed by many think tanks in Pakistan.
Economy. The policies followed in Pakistan for the past five years and cooperation with the US has ensured an economic turnaround. The United States permanently lifted sanctions against Pakistan in September 2001. US aid programme and debt forgiveness have also contributed to improved economy. Several reforms have been carried out. The IMF and World Bank have also provided relief to Pakistan's economy. The United States assisted with $1 billion in debt forgiveness in April 2003, and Islamabad repaid some higher rate debt during the year, causing debt service to decline to 27% of government expenditure in that year. In July 2004, the United States agreed to cancel another $495 million in government-to-government debt owed by Pakistan. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Pakistan in recent years has been low. The US can help Pakistan by increasing FDI in the industrial and other multifarious sectors.
A delegation of 15 business executives, organized by the U.S.-Pakistan Business Council (USPBC), visited Islamabad, Pakistan from March 14 to16, 2005. The business executives met with members of the American Business Council of Pakistan (ABC) to create synergies in their efforts to further improve the investment climate in Pakistan. The delegation suggested some key areas where Pakistan should focus in order to improve the climate for foreign direct investment, but there has been no dramatic breakthrough in boosting economic activity in Pakistan. The US will have to make major policy decisions to bring about favourable changes in Pakistan's economy through investments to trigger improved security and stability, which is in the interest of both, the US and Pakistan. Besides, there is a need for US economic assistance to reform Pakistan's social sectors. The US has provided some assistance to reform the education sector but much more is needed. Major reforms are required in the tribal areas to make education accessible to the masses. Development in these areas needs to be accelerated and opportunities should be provided to the public to shed the culture of violence and embrace progressive attitudes. Pakistan cannot do it alone and needs substantial US help.
Higher Education. A large number of Pakistani students aspire to proceed to USA for higher education. Most of these students are not granted US visas or the processing is inordinately delayed which creates uneasiness amongst them. Most of these students enrol in science and technical subjects in US universities. These students are required to be cleared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, causing undue delay in the visa process. There is a perception in Pakistan that students can't get a visa to study in the U.S. anymore. The US needs to review the visa process and encourage Pakistani students to seek higher education in the US. Concurrently, the US government may also encourage US universities to open their campuses in Pakistan. This would offset the need of Pakistani students to proceed to the US in large numbers and would also create model institutions in Pakistan, providing quality education.
Conventional Imbalance. The conventional military balance vis-à-vis India is highly unequal in India's favour than commonly understood. This disparity continues to widen to Pakistan's disadvantage, and it has destabilizing effects on the nuclear relationship. Since both states tested nuclear arms in 1998 and have serious unresolved territorial disputes between them, their is a possibility that the conventional military imbalance will lead to the outbreak of another conventional war, and in such a war those imbalances would also accentuate the risks of nuclear escalation and outbreak of nuclear war. The greater the imbalance, the greater the risk of a nuclear conflict. Hence, the US needs to take measures to reduce the imbalance, which would add to peace and harmony in the region.
Access to CARs. The Trans-Afghan Pipeline (TAP) is a mega project that envisages transportation of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and possibly to India. The feasibility study proves that TAP is an economically viable project and defines technical parameters and mechanisms for market delivery of gas. The envisaged pipeline would be 1680 kilometres long. It would start from Turkmenistan and terminate at Fazilka, the Pakistan frontier station adjoining the Indian border, if India decides to join the project. The pipeline would also extend to the Pakistani port of Gawadar from where the gas would be available for export. The total cost of the project is estimated to be US $ 3.3 billion.
With dwindling gas reserves of Pakistan, it is of utmost importance that the project be started without delay. Hesitance of India to join in, due to political considerations, has already delayed the project inordinately. The US needs to support the project and create conditions conducive for starting the project as soon as possible. The project would also meet India's needs, which is starved of energy resources.
The relations with the US started off well in 2001 and are progressing satisfactorily. While some proposals have been mentioned for initiation by the US, the Pakistani side also needs to initiate certain measures. Pakistan needs to reach out to the public in the US and create a better understanding between the masses of the countries. This is only possible if the US government goes along with Pakistan. Pakistan should hire a credible Public Relation (PR) firm to project Pakistan's point of view in the US. Pakistan may also hire a lobbying firm to pursue her objectives in seeking US assistance in matters of mutual concern. Most of the Pakistani students in the US seek higher studies in the field of science and technology. The Pakistan government may encourage and financially support selected students to pursue education in the field of humanities such as journalism, political science, international relations etc.
The Pakistan government has taken a wise decision by becoming an ally of the US in the war on terrorism. The road to enlightened moderation is bumpy but is worth the ride. The growing relations with the US are turning Pakistan into a strategic partner. Stability in South Asia is bound to come with the continuing trend of forging relations with the US and pursuing the policy of enlightened moderation.