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The highest bidder

WHEN the US-led alliance occupied Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, I wrote here that between the anvil of Pakistani forces and the Nato hammer, we had a real opportunity to crush the Taliban and other militant groups operating in the border region.

Silly me. In my oversimplification of the situation, I had overlooked the mutual distrust and paranoia of both the CIA and the ISI. As events have unfolded, we have witnessed how both sides have cooperated with each other, while simultaneously harbouring suspicions.

From time to time, these have escalated into bitter recriminations and public accusations. The recently resurrected Raymond Davis affair is a reminder of how deep this mistrust goes. The revelation of the help provided by ISI to free the CIA contractor has rubbed salt into unhealed wounds, but also underlines the cooperation that exists between the two agencies.

However, as we cleave to past policies and ingrained paranoia, the world around us is changing. India, after decades of being in the anti-US camp, has made a 180-degree U-turn. When Modi hugged a clearly reluctant Trump during his Washington visit, he was showing Indians they had abandoned the socialist, anti-imperialist policies of Nehru and his successors.

The Indian prime minister’s recent visit to Israel — and his refusal to meet the Palestinian leadership — sent out another signal: India no longer supports the struggle for an independent state for Palestinians. So clearly, India today has discarded baggage its current leaders deem to be a drag on economic and military progress. Both changes in tack give India access to cutting-edge weaponry.

There are no permanent friends or enemies.

Pakistan, on the other hand, continues its ambivalent policy towards the US. By not committing to a full-fledged alliance — despite being named a major non-Nato ally by Washington — we have denied ourselves the benefits such a relationship could have brought us.

Our foreign policy planners in the Foreign Office and GHQ failed to grasp that after 9/11, it was no longer business as usual in Washington. The distinction between freedom fighters and terrorists became blurred, especially if the former happened to be Muslims.

So when our spooks hunted down Al Qaeda elements while giving the Afghan Taliban sanctuary, they angered many in Washington. And when the body bags carrying soldiers killed in action began arriving in Washington, the media and politicians saw Pakistan’s hand in these deaths.

The Haqqani network’s attacks on Afghanistan from their alleged bases in North Waziristan added fuel to the fire, and has led to the rising chorus of anti-Pakistan voices in Washington. It is an unfortunate fact that we no longer have the number of friends in the US as we once did. And as the Trump carries out his review of US policy towards Pakistan, there are solid grounds for thinking that nothing good for us will emerge.

And why should it? Here is a superpower that has given or lent well over $30 billion to us over the years, and thinks it has the right to expect support and loyalty when it’s fighting a war next door. Instead, in American eyes, it has a partner that’s helping the enemy. No wonder the call for Pakistan to ‘do more’ is becoming deafening.

Obviously, our narrative is very different, as is our threat perception. Fearing an Indo-Afghan nexus, our establishment wants a proxy in place for the post-US scenario. And by taking on the Haqqanis, who were active only in Afghanistan, we feared a violent backlash within Pakistan.

Many of our insecurities and policies are driven by the threat India is seen as posing. By viewing Afghanistan through the prism of India, we have contributed to increased instability there. In American eyes, instead of being part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

History teaches us that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. So even as India and China bicker occasionally over their disputed border, they continue trading. But we see no such pragmatic need to open up either travel or trade with India.

The incoherence in our foreign policy was exposed by the ongoing Saudi-led slaughter in Yemen, and the kingdom’s irrational blockade of Qatar. Our ambivalence was on display yet again by retired Gen Raheel Sharif’s acceptance of the top job in the Saudi-financed phantom anti-Iran army.

In all these recent Saudi-led initiatives, Pakistan’s position has swung between reluctant ally and clueless observer. While claiming neutrality between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their regional proxy wars, Pakistan is widely seen to be in Riyadh’s corner.

Pakistan is prone to loudly proclaiming its sovereignty, but the harsh reality is that when you have to turn to international organisations and other states for assistance, you often have to compromise your freedom to act. So if we are going to bend our knee anyway, it might as well be to the highest bidder.

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