In anticipation of the visit to Washington by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, scheduled for October 21-23, Pakistan’s public relations machinery has gone into over-drive to build expectations of a new partnership between Pakistan and the United States. Americans are expected to overlook everything that has happened in the past — from the notorious Dr A.Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation to support for the Afghan Taliban to the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad — and embrace this ‘important, valuable and strategic ally’ of the United States.
A recent piece on the Forbes website, titled “Pakistan-U.S. Nuclear Weapons Talks May Lower Chance Of Nuclear War With India” argues that Pakistan should be given a civil nuclear deal similar to the one given to India in 2005. The article builds upon a Washington Post column by David Ignatius who sought to remind Americans that they cannot afford to forget Afghanistan and Pakistan and in the process hinted at a civil nuclear deal, much coveted by Islamabad, as a means of winning over the trust of Pakistan.
The Ignatius piece was clearly an attempt to reignite interest in Pakistan at a time when Washington appears almost to have forgotten the nuclear-armed country where US marines located and killed Osama bin Laden only four years ago. But the Forbes article went farther in painting Pakistan as a victim of American foreign policy amnesia and was written by a University of Baltimore Professor, Charles Tiefer, who is not exactly known for direct expertise on South Asian affairs.
Forbes.com allows contributors to write and post directly on the website, which is why an expert in government contracts, as Prof. Tiefer is described on the University of Baltimore website, could indulge his love for Pakistan without editorial scrutiny. In the last five months, Forbes.com has had four articles on Pakistan and all of them have been positively disposed -almost to the point of being puff pieces. That is absolutely the opposite of how other media outlets have been reporting on Pakistan for a while.
An earlier Forbes piece by Tiefer, in 2015 titled “Today’s India-Pakistan Armed Tensions – Will New U.S. Military and Nuclear Aid to Modi Inflame Them?”' argued that the United States should not see India as a counterweight to China as that would “inflame India-Pakistan armed tensions.” Had the professor known as an expert in government contracts argued that it would be bad for U.S. government contracts, at least he would have been simply making a wrong argument about his own subject. In this instance, he only revealed his ignorance of the history of U.S.-Pakistan and U.S.-India relations.
The Americans provided Pakistan with weapons to fight communism from the 1950s to the 1980s. The Reagan administration hoped a militarily strong Pakistan would feel sufficiently secure to keep its promise of not building nuclear weapons. Instead, Pakistan used American weaponry to initiate wars against India in 1965, 1971, and 1999, failing to win any of them and running back to the US to ask for more assistance. Pakistan’s covert war against India continues unabated.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has received $23 billion in civilian and military assistance ostensibly to fight terrorists while the US State Department remains unable to certify to Congress that it is, in fact, acting against all terrorist groups operating from Pakistan’s soil. Unlike Pakistan, the US has no complaints against India of harboring global Jihadi terrorists or of exporting nuclear material to third countries. India’s bilateral trade with the US ($50 billion in 2014) is ten times the size f Pakistan’s trade with the US ($5 billion). Still Mr. Tiefer argues that the US should not give ‘military aid’ to India to keep Pakistan on America’s side.
Ironically, India has rarely sought or received American military aid, with notable exceptions like in the aftermath of the 1962 India-China war. India is not asking for and the US is not giving India military and nuclear aid. Instead India is purchasing American defense equipment that will help American companies and provide jobs to Americans. More importantly India has never used any weapon – bought or given- through a terrorist proxy ever, even against China or Pakistan.
Moreover, no Indian military operation has ever caused the death of Americans, whereas Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan has led to numerous American deaths, both civilian and military. Mr. Tiefer nonchalantly writes that the various Pakistan jihadi groups like Lashkar e Taiba and Haqqani network “work with Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, ISI” but does not see that as reason for the US to shun Pakistan.
He argues that if the United States continues siding with India against China this will “antagonize Pakistan” and lead “the potentially scariest confrontation in the world.” In effect, he is saying that Pakistan’s sponsorship of jihadi groups should not come in the way of it being an American ally but the US must not ally with India because of Pakistan’s fear of India!!
The naiveté is hardly limited to the security arena. In August 2015, Forbes ran an article asking for a dramatic overhaul of US-Pakistan ties and pitching a US-Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). Another Forbes article attempted to sell Pakistan’s threat of going deeper into China’s embrace, changing the entire region around it, and insinuating that the United States should compete with China in currying Pakistan’s favor.
The author of the first article, titled ‘Pakistan: The Next Colombia Success Story?’ Daniel Runde, too was a novice as far as knowledge of Pakistan is concerned. Had he worked on Pakistan for any length of time he would have known that Pakistan is the only American ally that has failed to sustain significant growth or human development even after receiving more than $40 billion in US aid since 1950.
Mr. Runde should have examined why US aid to Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and even Europe under the Marshal Plan catalyzed their economies into self-sustaining growth while the largesse towards Pakistan only increased Pakistan’s dependence. The reason lies more in how Pakistan spent that money, in how its military and intelligence service view their ties with the US and in how disproportionately large the military is to the size of the country’s economy and any real threats it faces.
Mr. Runde suggests, that Pakistan suffers from “a terrible country brand.” But certain harsh realities persist and are not just a ‘branding’ problem. The politicized Pakistan army may have conducted some military operations against militants responsible for attacks inside Pakistan but the Pakistani army is still following its old policy of sparing terrorists targeting India, Afghanistan and the United States. Sartaj Aziz, advisor to Premier Sharif on National Security and foreign affairs, has openly asked, “Why should Pakistan target militants that do not threaten the country’s security?”
Despite dealing with Pakistan for decades some Americans still seem to believe they can change Pakistan’s behavior by giving in to its demands or responding favorably to its PR efforts. Pakistan needs to change its militarized national mindset and is more likely to reform under fear of international isolation than in response to praise based on falsehoods. Both the U.S. and Pakistan might benefit more from recognizing the history of the relationship and correcting their course substantively instead of obsessing only about appearances.