The fact that US-Pakistan relationship is on a downward spiral has been known for some time now. Now, the American Congress is finally biting the bullet; in what is seen to be a renewed bid to pressure Pakistan to meet its benchmarks, it has set conditions on the award of billions of dollars in security assistance. A Wall Street Journal report reveals that Pakistan has been told to take specific steps to ease bilateral tensions. “The classified system, put in place after the US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden at his Pakistani hideout, signals a shift by the White House towards a pay-for-performance relationship with Pakistan, as doubts grow whether the two countries can forge a broader alliance, based on shared interests,” the report says.
White House has already frozen $800 million in security assistance in recent months. This latest move is in response, in part, to mounting calls in Congress for putting stringent new conditions on future aid to Pakistan, as many lawmakers had demanded sharp cuts in military assistance unless Pakistan toes the US line. Under the new approach, the office of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is compiling classified score cards that track Pakistan’s cooperation in four areas, referred to as “baskets”. Each basket contains a to-do list that the administration wants from Pakistan. Washington has told Islamabad that future payouts of security assistance would hinge on Pakistan showing progress in these four areas. The four baskets are : Pakistani cooperation in exploiting the Bin Laden compound; cooperation with the war in Afghanistan; Pakistani cooperation with the US in conducting joint counter-terrorism operations; and cooperation in improving the overall tone in bilateral relations.
Though the cornered Pakistanis are not openly protesting, there are voices of discontent visible in all panel discussions and debates that are being held on the subject. A roundtable conference on the state of Pakistan-US relations was conducted by the Jinnah Institute recently. It was attended by former diplomats, academics and members of the policy and media communities. The participants voiced concern over growing anti-American sentiment, which, they felt was allowing radicalism to gain ground in Pakistan. There was significant debate about whether the current impasse was a strategic fracture, or a policy hiccup that can be overcome through dialogue and diplomatic engagement between the two governments. There was also apprehension about a policy shift in the US, given that many of the key strategic positions are now occupied by people who are perceived to hold hard-line views on Pakistan’s role and contribution in the ‘war on terror’.
Historically speaking, the US-Pakistan relationship came about due to `mutual convenience’ during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. There has always existed a legacy of distrust on both sides. Despite efforts by Washington and Islamabad to overcome this distrust, the bilateral relationship will continue to be transactional as it has been in the past. What can be perceived to be a positive development is that, within Pakistan, there is a growing realisation that its impasse with the US is a direct result of its internal weakness.
It is a well known fact that Washington’s growing economic relations with India and an unwritten agreement with New Delhi on regional strategic matters has become a matter of discomfort to Pakistan. While Indian analysts will take pride in the fact that strategic and economic priorities of India and US align more closely, one may also note that these add to the security threats that Pakistan sees as emanating from India. To offset the same it has conveniently started diverting US aid towards enhancing its conventional capabilities. Behind the anti-US upsurge within the Pakistani military, the shadow of US-India relations looms large. Earlier, the Jihadi faction of the Pakistan military was willing to play ball with the US so long as Washington remained indifferent to its relations with India, but post the Abottabad raid and the killing of Osama all this has changed. However, the US-Pakistan bonhomie is far from over. Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, who recently has emerged as a hawk on Pakistan, conceded that the US had no choice but to keep up its alliance with Pakistan, despite concerns over Islamabad’s ties with militants. He is of the opinion that the US needed to maintain this relationship with Pakistan because the latter country continues to be an important force in the region.
India has been keenly monitoring the situation on the sidelines. She has always been trying to impress upon the US the need to link aid with proof of dismantling of Jihadi terror infrastructure. Now that the US has realised the pragmatism of this advice, it is time to press home the advantage. India needs to ensure that proof of Pakistan’s involvement in terror attacks is shown to the world, after which, it would be prudent to look for a commitment towards dismantling of these terror camps within a given time frame.
Under the prevailing circumstances, any move to change the status quo with respect to the security threshold within India, especially Kashmir has to be made after deep contemplation since any step in this direction will definitely be exploited by Pakistan. A reduction in vigilance will lead to a drastic increase in proliferation of terror. Dilution of enabling laws like the Disturbed Area Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act will be used by Pakistan as a lever to say that Kashmir is no longer infested with terror and India’s assertion of its complicity in the export of terror is erroneous. In the complex vortex of International relations, it is better to tread with caution. While emphasizing its point India needs to watch the drama unfold and constantly press for more.