The relationship of Pakistan and America has taken yet another downward turn after the Nato attack on 26th November 2011 on the Pakistani check post in Salala, killing 24 military personnel. The Obama administration refusing to issue an apologetic statement, the Nato supply line being cut for over a month, and anti-American sentiments rising within Pakistani masses, the few fundamental questions raised in these circumstances are: a) Now that the military trust has been severely damaged, where is the relationship between US-Pak headed? b) How will America pursue its end game in Afghanistan if Pakistan decides to withdraw from the war on terror and how will this extrication impact Pakistan domestically based on the AFPAK doctrine?
Contrary to the popular belief that the supply lines would be reopened soon, they are still under a state of blockage by the Pakistan Army. This leads to wonder whether this time the Pak-US relationship has indeed hit rock bottom. While within Pakistan the military has broken the chain of command, shoot at sight orders have been issued in case of an unlicensed air boundary violation, the shamsi airbase has been vacated; still the two militaries remain in a state of cold war.
The underlying dichotomy of Pak -US relations were highlighted most prominently when America slapped Pakistan with an arms embargo, right in the middle of the 1965 war with India. Pakistan as a result of the embargo, not only felt betrayed but also suffered immensely. It was an opportunity for us, to perhaps set our priorities in order and reassess our relationship with the US but somehow that never materialized and hence our reliance on the US continued to grow. Amongst the many factors of Pakistan’s strategic geographical location, another reason for US reliance on Pakistan for transport of NATO supplies is simply the cost effectiveness of the Pakistani route. All the alternative supply routes through Europe double the cost of delivery. Calculations of the US Transportation Command showed that the average cost of hauling a 20 foot container from the Northern Distribution Network between April and September, was around $12,367 whereas the cost of the same container from the Pakistan route was merely $6,700 per container. The NATO supplies were also exempted of custom duties and import taxes when reaching Pakistani soil, in addition fuel being sold to the forces was also tax free. The realization that the forces have very cleverly evaded their way out of paying due Pakistani money is now starting to dawn within the media, military and civil think tanks as well as the masses. According to a statement issued by a domestic think-tank ‘Brasstacks’ either the import duties on the NATO supplies should be put in arrears or Pakistan should consider the option of confiscating the stagnant supplies that have not been refrained from crossing the Afghan Border. Cost of which has been estimated between 3-4 billion US dollars.
Military Aid to Pakistan from 2002 has been approximately $11.8 billion. While the Obama administration is threatening to freeze aid or put further terms and conditions to it, the Pakistan account books have started questioning if all that aid money was the amount the US saved by either avoiding taxes or if that aid cost us more by the rise in sectarian violence fueled by American interference in Pakistani Politics which resulted in the loss of millions of innocent Pakistani lives.
The American interests in the region however are far from over. Pakistan’s foreign policy since the inception of the state was driven by quest for security. Arguably, a correct stance given the vulnerability of the new found state, it later went on to join the American block during the cold war because of Indian alliance with USSR causing insecurities within the country. The influx of two million refugees as well as the narcotics and drug industry thriving after the USSR disintegration were one of the major side effects Pakistan had to face for its participation in the war. Similarly, after 9/11 the country was not given much choice when they were told by the Bush administration that ‘Either you are with us or against us’. While ten years later, the troops have been called back from Iraq, no such order seems to be expected in the near future regarding Afghanistan. According to estimates, despite US presence on Afghan soil for over a decade now, less than 40% of the country is under US control. The Karzai government is also limited in its effect and functionality by the other resistance movements within the country. Having a Pro-American, Pro Indian government in Afghanistan is trouble for Pakistan because then not only military would have to stretch itself on both eastern and western borders but also because of the Indian nexus within Afghanistan. Furthermore, the construction of dam on Kabul river could greatly threaten Pakistan’s future water supply from the western side. Despite the difficulties arising, American interests in the region are of great magnitude and Pakistan is in negotiating position due to the multifaceted dimensions of state of affairs within the United States. While their internal economy is collapsing, and they have spent more on the War on Terror in Afghanistan with fruitless results than all other military expenditures, sustenance of the war seems highly unlikely.
Pakistan for its part now needs to assess if in the search of realizing American interests is it compromising its own and whether the price we have to pay; the loss of 24 army men under direct attack from US apaches is a price too high to sustain. General Ayub Khan’s statement comes to mind when trying to understand the future relationship between these two countries, ‘While it is bad to be America’s enemy, it is worse to be its friend.’