Pakistan First

Pakistan First

Pakistan’s ruling elite has always wanted to remain on the right side of the United States, though circumstances often push the country on the wrong side of this imperial world power. Years of close working relations between the two countries are always followed by prolonged periods of tension, strained relations and a lingering mistrust. This pattern has kept repeating itself, much to the discomfiture of successive Pakistani governments. The goal of a stable, reliable and balanced working relationship between Pakistan and the United States has so far remained elusive as the pendulum keeps moving from one extreme to the other.

With the US-led longest war in Afghanistan over, even the much-touted transitional relationship between Islamabad and Washington has also passed its shelf life. Now the American leadership is searching for scapegoats to put the blame of the debacle of the two-decade long military campaign in Afghanistan at someone else’s doorstep. And again, Pakistan has emerged as an obvious target. Although, officially Washington has desisted from blaming Pakistan openly and officially for its failure so far, the American media, think-tanks and many lawmakers have started accusing Islamabad, with a fresh vigour of playing a double-game with “simple-minded Americans” and enabling the Afghan Taliban to snatch victory from the mightiest world powers.

The ominous anti-Pakistan mood in the United States is reflected by a piece of legislation moved in the US Senate on September 28 in which 22 Republican Senators called for the imposition of sanctions on the Afghan Taliban, and all the foreign governments that supported them in recapturing Kabul. The “Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act” specially seeks information from the US Secretary of State about his assessment of the role of Pakistan in supporting the Taliban from 2001-2020, in the offensive that led to the toppling of the US-backed Kabul government and looking into the alleged Pakistani support for the Taliban in their Panjshir Valley offensive.

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Democrats are not part of this move, which is unlikely to be passed by the US Senate. However, the symbolism behind it remains powerful and reflects the prevalent mindset in Washington, which wants to keep Pakistan under pressure with its constant demand to do more. To add to the uncertainty is the Biden administration’s move to undertake a review of Pakistan-US relations amidst growing crescendo of voices which unjustifiably hold Pakistan responsible for Washington’s failure in Afghanistan.

This US story-line is flawed. But it is also a bitter fact that on the international stage of power politics, super powers and their allies can paint white as black and get away with their lies at the cost of the smaller powers. The world has seen this spectacle umpteen times. Iraq, Libya and Syria are the most recent examples of Western aggression, hypocrisy and double-talk. Therefore, Pakistanis should not be surprised if the Americans try to build pressure through such proposed legislation, reenergising the blame-game and bringing more and more demands on the table.

Already, the US has demanded that Pakistan should take action against what it perceives as extremist and militant groups. But Pakistan should refuse to pick up fights at the behest of the US. Prime Minister Imran Khan reflected the sentiment on Pakistan’s streets when he categorically announced that Pakistan will be Washington’s partner only in peace, and not its military campaigns. The government must stick to this stance, and continue to say no to the US demand of granting passage for any airstrikes on a third country.

Pakistan has done more than its share in the so-called US war against terrorism — and at the cost of massive human and economic sacrifices. The United States never paid any heed to Pakistan’s interests on its western borders as it empowered the anti-Pakistan Afghan factions and allowed India to use Afghanistan’s territory against Pakistan. Successive US administrations did not listen to Pakistan’s constant advise to find a political solution to the Afghan problem since the days of former President Pervez Musharraf.

It’s time the Pakistani leaders realise that the interests of Islamabad and Washington do not converge anymore. In fact, long before the end of the US’ war in Afghanistan, Washington had made its intentions for the region clear when it picked India – Pakistan’s number one enemy – as its strategic partner. This was done during the heydays of the war against terrorism when Pakistan’s military ruler Musharraf enjoyed a good rapport with the then US President George W. Bush. These relations only grew and expanded under successive US administrations as Washington tried to prop up India against Pakistan’s closest ally, China.

Now the divergence of interests between Pakistan and the United States have become more pronounced as Washington is working to establish Indian hegemony in the region. The two countries also do not see eye-to-eye on Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. There are critical junctures in history when one has to bite the bullet and take a position rather than attempting to sail in two boats. Hopefully, our military and civil leaders make the right choices on the external front, keeping in view Pakistan’s interests alone, which cannot be served by dancing to the tune of the United States.

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