Ally only in name, trusted no longer
While informing Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about the US decision to accept Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to President Barack Obama, the American clearly told Sharif that he (Obama) would consider a similar visit to Islamabad only when the situation there becomes “normal”. The US President’s remark marks a distinct shift in Washington’s strategy on the Indian subcontinent that has several implications.
On the face of it, the United States, a long-term ally of Pakistan ever since Islamabad joined America in the global Cold War against Soviet Russia, has officially conveyed that the era of its supporting Pakistan on every issue the latter has with India, is over.
No doubt the Cold War ended in 1990 with the Soviet Union itself being wiped out of the global face by its own people. But the US needed Pakistan after the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan and the Kabul regime sheltered the Al Qaeda that targeted America with the 9/11 terrorist attack. Pakistan was to be the base from which President George W Bush would demolish the Taliban regime in Kabul and smoke out the Al Qaeda.
Once again, successive Pakistani regimes were ready to play America’s game for the two billion dollar US assistance and arms and equipment the US was giving to Pakistani military, ignoring repeated Indian warning to Washington that the military in Islamabad was using the money to prepare itself for both open and proxy wars against India.
After the end of the Cold War, Washington, DC, claimed that it was treating India and Pakistan on an equal basis. Recent history of American intervention on the Indian sub-continent needs to be recalled to understand the significance of President Obama conveying to the Pakistani Prime Minister that the US considered conditions in that country to be not “normal”, and implying that a presidential visit to Islamabad could take place only when normalcy returned there.
In 1999, when President Bill Clinton visited New Delhi for three days, he only made a courtesy stop at Islamabad, marking the US’s protest at a military regime under then President General Pervez Musharraf replacing the democratic regime of Mr Nawaz Sharif. However, there was no break in Pakistan being given annually, the so-called military aid that, in fact, made the Pakistan Army even more of a powerful force in Pakistan’s politics.
After 9/11, President Bush made Pakistan his base for demolishing the Taliban regime in Kabul and squeezing Al Qaeda and its chieftain, mainly Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahari, out of their shelter in the Afghan capital.
Pakistan’s military needed these two and their organisation to regain its hold in Afghanistan in the name of Islamabad needing ‘depth’ in its policy against India. Pakistan’s military also needed the Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban to continue inflicting bleeding cuts on India in Kashmir particular and inside India overall, as a direct confrontation would not take it far.
The Pakistan Army was pretending to assist the anti-Taliban actions of the US Army and security operations in support of the regime in Kabul, while all the time Osama bin Laden had parked himself in the Pakistan Army Cantonment at Jalalabad – even as the US forces were searching for him all over the region.
For the Pakistani military, its entire hold on the country’s policymaking and on its people’s psyche is based on advertising its perception that Pakistan should be seen as India’s equal, if not one step more important than India in the world view.
The forces that created Pakistan had stuffed into the psyche of the Muslim rank and file that as an Islamic country, it would be more valuable to the world in the Middle Eastern context than ‘Hindu India’. Despite the three wars that the Pakistani military fought, with the US-given arms, it could not gain supremacy over India. The 1971 vivisection of Pakistan further weakened that country. For the Pakistani establishment, this myth of elevating the country as equal to India had to be the national aim. That context made both the military and themullah a rising force in that country.
They were allies in carrying on with the Bhutto thesis of inflicting deep cuts on India without actually pushing for a war, but they were also rivals in the power game within the country. India-hating and India-baiting were the raison d’etre of Pakistan in the context of its inability to gain equality with India in the global perception.
So long as the US needed action points on Pakistan’s soil, both the military and the mullah could play their double game with Washington, DC. But in the second decade of the 21st century, that US need has largely disappeared.
President Bush signalled this fact with the offer of a civil nuclear deal to India, with all pleas from Pakistan to confer a similar pact to it falling flat. The discovery of Osama bin Laden close to the Pakistan military cantonment exposed the double-talk of the Pakistan military to the entire US people, and to Europe too.
Besides, the rivalry between the mullah and the military and the civilian establishment for real power has turned Pakistan into a keg of gun powder, with bombings and kidnappings spreading blood all over. President Obama telling Sharif that the US can no longer treat Pakistan on an equal basis with India, is the last warning that that country gets, ending the myth that Pakistani rulers were hoping to sustain about their country’s importance in global power play.
Even its once hoped-for status as the most important Muslim country is no longer sustainable, with several West Asian countries including Saudi Arabia signing security agreements with India to extradite militant elements. The civilian establishment is prevented by the military and the mullah power blocs from conferring the ‘most favoured nation’ status to India for commerce – which means that the Pakistani common man has to import many needs, from pan to spices,via Dubai, paying double the prevailing price in India. Pakistani business loses enormous opportunity for investment in India and in trade. Pakistan itself is in the throes of being a failed state, with its economy surviving by US aid and Saudi charity primarily. Repeated pleas by Sharif to the US President to intervene with India on the Kashmir issue, now gets only a deaf ear.
President Obama has finally said the last word to Islamabad: ‘Set your house in order first’. He will go ahead with building up a strategic alliance with a resurgent India, providing an opportunity in an economy which all set to expand from two trillion dollars to 10 trillion dollar – surpassing Japan, the second largest Asian economy, where a new aggressive political leadership is now in charge.