Round The World
CRACKS IN US-PAKISTAN TIES
By Monish Tourangbam
Research Scholar, School of International Studies (JNU)
New Delhi, February 28, 2011
The US-Pakistan ties are in rough waters and it is quite
uncertain as to how the fragile relationship will tackle the
present diplomatic row. Probably Pakistan’s need for US aid
and Washington’s need for Islamabad’s assistance in the Afghan
conflict will force them to make last minute compromises, but
the issue has indeed opened up a lot of fissures.
The case is over the killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore by an
American, whose official position is at the centre of the spat
between Washington and Islamabad, allies in the “war on
terrorism.” The issue revolves around a singular incident in
Lahore earlier this year when an American official Raymond
Davis shot dead two Pakistanis whom Davis accuses were out to
rob and harm him. A third Pakistani died when he was hit by a
US consulate car rushing to help Davis. The widow of one of
the men killed by Davis later committed suicide.
The Obama Administration is adamant on getting Davis released
on the basis of his “diplomatic immunity.” While many sections
in Pakistan question the diplomatic status of the accused
American some others accuse Davis of being an American spy who
had probably crossed limits of diplomat’s duty.
Media headlines too focused on the fact that Davis had
surveillance equipment and an unlicensed semi-automatic weapon
on him at the time of his arrest. But American officials
contend that the visa provided by the Pakistani Government and
the diplomatic passport on the basis of which he came to
Pakistan, was proof enough of his diplomatic status on the
basis of which he should be granted immunity that he deserves.
It is quite certain that the US-Pakistan relationship is too
vital for both to be affected by this diplomatic row that
nevertheless rocked the rickety boat. But, this incident is
yet again a mirror to the shifting sands on which the ties are
based and will certainly have repercussions for the larger
There are pressures on both sides, with the Obama
Administration intent on winning the day with the release of
its official and at the same time concerned about the rising
anti-Americanism on the streets of Pakistan. On the other
hand, in Pakistan, the fragile Government under President Asif
Ali Zardari does not want to be seen as being too soft on its
ties with Washington.
The Zardari Administration is seen as a stooge of the American
Government by conservative elements and so, it does want this
image re-emphasized. At the same time, the Pakistani
Establishment does not want American aid stopped because of a
singular mishap. A Pakistani court has delayed taking any
decision on the case for a while on the plea of giving the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs time to investigate the diplomatic
status of the accused American.
The move is clearly an effort from Islamabad to defer any
volatile face-off with its major aid-source, Washington. The
rising domestic diatribes in Pakistan threaten to further
escalate the rising anti-Americanism on Pakistani streets,
with conservative religious groups adding fuel to the fire.
Thus, the Pakistani Establishment is walking a tightrope,
trying to balance domestic demands and its reliance on
The issue has created divisions within the top echelons of the
Establishment. Sources have directly linked the former Foreign
Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi losing his job to disagreements
with the Government regarding the issue of granting diplomatic
immunity to Davis. Qureshi had insisted that the American does
not have blanket immunity and questioned the Government’s move
to further delay taking any decision on the case.
Besides, Washington and Islamabad ties has undergone what can
be called a 'love-hate relationship' but the geo-strategic
importance of Pakistan in the scheme of anti-Communism or
anti-terrorism has never been ignored and at most times,
American trust on the Pakistani Establishment have been
In fact, US-Pakistan ties are an intriguing study, at how a
uni-dimensional relationship built around mere strategic
objectives can have serious fall-outs. The whole edifice of
the Washington-Islamabad relationship seems to rest on the
American threat perceptions regarding Islamic terrorism and
the Pakistani preoccupation with the fact that American aid is
something that they cannot lose at any cost.
This sort of over-reliance forces policy makers on both the
sides to ignore and by-pass a lot of other elements that often
shakes the relationship to its very foundation. As of now,
there does not seem to be signs of any revolutionary change in
America’s Pakistani policy, at least on the aid front.
Despite a report by the by the Inspectors General for the U.S.
State Department, Defense Department and Agency for
International Development (USAID) raising doubts on the
effectiveness of the large scale American aid to Pakistan and
the diplomatic row casting its looming shadows, aid probably
will flow as usual, with many prominent US lawmakers including
Kay Granger categorically disfavoring any changes in the aid
policy following the question of the detained American
The Republican Representative Granger, who chairs the House
sub-committee that disburses foreign aid, said she had
discussed the case several times with the US Ambassador to
Pakistan and opposed cutting assistance to Islamabad. “I am
convinced it is counter-productive to use US aid as leverage
and I believe it would hurt rather than help the situation to
withhold funds,” she said in a statement.
Indeed, US policy makers are clear on getting Davis released,
but not at the cost of the strategic alliance with Pakistan in
Afghanistan. So, despite the ongoing diplomatic showdown, the
Obama Administration is not putting the flowing aid on hold,
allocating a staggering USD 3.1 billion as assistance to the
country for 2012.
But will aid money help stem the increasing anti-Americanism
in Pakistan, the weakest link in the US-Pakistan ties? It
hasn’t till now. Anti-Americanism is a concoction that has
been brewing for some time now in the heartland of Pakistan,
being distributed free of cost through local mosques, madrasas
and other forms of vitriolic literature. And worse still,
anti-Americanism is in fashion, not only in Pakistan but the
intensity is high in this Muslim State.
Clearly, US and Pakistan have had the most intense of official
and diplomatic channeling since the advent of the Cold War.
However, the relationship has been based more on a
supply-demand perspective. Islamabad has always expected
guaranteed assistance from Washington in return for being a
frontline state for the US against Communism during the Cold
War and now against international terrorism. Otherwise, there
are hardly any similarities or concurrence between the two.
America has functioned as a democracy since its inception
while Pakistan, has been ruled by the military for almost half
of its existence as an independent State. And years of dining
together with Washington, the oldest democracy in the world
has not changed Islamabad. It is time US policy makers gave
some thought as to how to win the people on the streets and
not just Pakistani politicians and military generals. ---INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)