WikiLeaks cables have stirred a tempest in Pakistan. A number of Pakistani political and military leaders have been exposed for conceding in private what they are reluctant to do in public. But the real question these leaked cables point to is why do Pakistani leaders need to be so obsequious in private when they are so bombastic in anti-American rhetoric in public.
In 1947 Mr Jinnah asserted that, “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America. Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed, the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.” Right from Jinnah onwards, Pakistan’s rulers believed that the United States ‘needs’ Pakistan because of its geo-strategic location. As I have argued in my book, in return for this help, Pakistan expects American aid, both military and economic, to help it achieve parity and attain security vis-à-vis India.
Pakistan sought American aid on the grounds that the country will help US fight Communism during the Cold War era and terrorism in the present era. However, Pakistani leaders have never viewed either Communism or terrorism as strategic threats and hence have always been reluctant American allies.
Always justifying the American relationship to the Pakistani public in the context of balancing India, Pakistani leaders, both civilian and military, have been reluctant to share the real reason for American aid and support to Pakistan. Instead the public has been fed on a contrived narrative where US is portrayed as the unfaithful fair-weather ally while Pakistan is shown as being always faithful. In addition Pakistani leaders have also been unwilling to admit how deep is the Pakistani dependence on US.
The recently leaked cables reflect this dichotomy. The cables show that contrary to what was said in public the military leadership, including General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, approved drone strikes against Al Qaeda targets and approved US Special Forces being embedded within the Pakistani army fighting in the north-west. Pakistan’s civilian leadership, including Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, was also on board with the drone strikes.
The extent to which the Pakistani political class believes American support will help further their cause in domestic politics is reflected in opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to portray himself as being pro-American and his “thanking” the American ambassador for “selecting” Kayani as army chief. That the Islamist parties who are normally the most vocal in anti-American rhetoric too seek American blessings in private is visible in Maulana Fazlur Rehman lobbying the Americans to make him Prime Minister.
While desirous of American support in private the Pakistani establishment tries to show its independence in public by asserting that Pakistan is following a certain policy only because it is pressured by the United States. Pakistani politicians and diplomats constantly use clichés to describe Pakistan’s ties to US. Whether it is referring to Pakistan as the ‘most allied ally’ who has never been given its due by the United States. Or as “the most sanctioned ally of the US” as was stated by a former Pakistani foreign secretary a while back. Just recently a leading Pakistani columnist quoted a military official calling Pakistan “the most bullied ally.”
The WikiLeaks cables thus reveal the dichotomous nature of US-Pakistan relations whereby everyone who is significant—whether in the military or civilian leadership—acknowledges the need for American support and is obsequious in private but refrains from doing so in the open.
Pakistanis, both leaders and elite, need to come to terms with the fact that Pakistan is dependent on American assistance. Pakistan needs American civilian and developmental aid. Over the decades US has been the largest provider of aid to Pakistan, with over $23 billion in aid between 1954 and 2008. Even though most of that aid was military aid the assistance helped the country balance its budget and sustain its armed forces. The United States is the largest contributor to the Friends of Democratic Pakistan consortium and the American government was the first provider of emergency aid both for the refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in the north west and the flood victims in various parts of Pakistan. The $7.5 billion civilian aid package under the Kerry-Lugar bill is in addition to other aid for Pakistan.
The Pakistani military needs American aid for arms and weapons whether they are night vision goggles or F-16 aircrafts. The recent $2 billion aid package is another example of how critical American aid is for Pakistan. Among the leaked cables is one where General Kayani says the Pakistani army is “desperate” for US military support.
The few Pakistanis who have been open in their acknowledgment of Pakistani dependence on US have always been criticized by the media, politicians and mullahs. The Pakistani elite which forms part of the establishment—both civilian and military—the media, judiciary and academia has been virulent in its anti-Americanism and feeling of American betrayal. As a leading Pakistani columnist reported, during a recent meeting held for journalists, a senior military official complained that the real American strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan was to “de-nuclearize Pakistan.”
However, even the Pakistani elite needs American visas so that their children can study in the States and so that the elite can visit family members. But like many other dependent elites the Pakistani elite is unwilling and unable to recognize this dependency and instead keeps up a culture of anti-American oratory.
WikiLeaks may or may not be good for US diplomacy but it may be good for Pakistan if Pakistanis recognize the need to cut out the bombast which they feed their own people. There is an idée fixe that the United States needs Pakistan and cannot do without Pakistan’s help. However, the reality is that Pakistan needs US consistently while US needs Pakistan intermittently.