President Trump’s remarks calling for the expansion of Indo-US cooperation in security and other fields at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with the Indian expatriates at Houston on 22 September was the latest reminder of the rapidly growing strategic partnership between the two countries. This partnership, promoted by four successive American Presidents, is firmly rooted in the convergence of their strategic interests and, according to Trump, in their shared democratic values. India has now become part and parcel of the American strategy to contain China. By way of contrast, Pakistan, which used to be America’s close ally during the Cold War era despite occasional ups and downs in their relationship, is gradually losing ground to India in the competition for influence in and cooperation with the US.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s unwillingness to be a party to American policy of containment of China has been a major factor for pulling the two countries in different directions. But this divergence is not the only factor responsible for the growing estrangement between them. Misunderstandings between the two countries on Afghanistan and the issue of terrorism have played their own role in widening the gulf of mistrust and alienation between them. Pakistan has also failed to cultivate methodically American foreign policy and security establishment, media, academics, and other opinion makers with a view to conveying to them effectively its point of view on important bilateral, regional and global issues. Further, it has not adequately mobilized Pakistani expatriates in the US for the promotion of its national interests. Finally, Pakistan’s slow rate of economic growth, its scientific and technological backwardness, and its failure to develop a stable political system on democratic lines have also had negative repercussions on Pakistan-US relations.

The US blundered into the war in Afghanistan after 9/11 under the mistaken assumption that, after decimating Al Qaeda, it could impose a government of its choice on Afghanistan on a long-term basis through military means, that durable peace and stability could be restored in Afghanistan while excluding the Afghan Taliban from the government in Kabul, and that it could re-shape the conservative and tribal Afghan society in accordance with its own cultural values. The result of this flawed Afghanistan policy was an unending American war with the Afghan Taliban and constant US demands on Pakistan to do more in fighting the Taliban, who had taken refuge in its tribal areas, so as to lighten the burden of fighting on its own forces. Pakistan’s willingness to oblige the Americans made it the battleground against terrorism at enormous cost in blood and treasure. However, Washington, instead of correcting its Afghanistan policy and appreciating Pakistan’s support, made Pakistan the scapegoat for its own policy failures. The net result was growing misunderstandings, mistrust and strains in Pakistan-US relations.

The US operation in May 2011 to take out Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad, while keeping Pakistan in the dark, reflected the gulf of mistrust which separated the two countries. The strains in bilateral relations finally led to the termination of US military and economic assistance to Pakistan. Afghanistan issue remains a source of tension in Pakistan-US relations despite Pakistan’s helpful role in the initiation of talks between the representatives of the US and the Taliban at Doha. It is a pity that the talks process was cancelled last month by President Trump before it could lead to a formal agreement between the two sides.

After 9/11, the US raised the issue of terrorism to the top of its international agenda. Afghan Taliban, who had nothing to do with 9/11 terrorist attacks, were branded by the US as terrorists just because they had given shelter to Al Qaeda. Pakistan, which had supported the Taliban in the civil war in Afghanistan in 1990’s, also became a suspect in the American eyes. New Delhi took full advantage of the American suspicions to malign Pakistan for the sake of its own nefarious designs. Pakistan’s flawed Kashmir policy of the 1990’s was exploited by India to the hilt to brand Pakistan as a supporter of terrorism. New Delhi also blamed Pakistan for the Mumbai terrorist attack and the American sympathy for the Indian point of view had the effect of further aggravating Pakistan-US mistrust.

Significantly, at the Houston meeting, President Trump called for Indo-US cooperation in fighting “radical Islamic terrorism” to a loud applause from the audience. On 27 September, US Acting Secretary of State Alice G. Wells in her opening statement at a press briefing in New York stated, “Prime Minister Khan made important public commitments regarding the need to prevent cross-border terrorism and sanctuary for terrorist organizations, which if implemented fully, would provide a strong basis for (Pakistan-India) dialogue.” These remarks reflected a remarkable similarity of the views of India and the US on the issue of terrorism. Of course, Ms. Wells also expressed US concern over widespread detentions (by the Indian authorities) of local leaders and the restrictions on the residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

There is no denying the fact that PM Imran Khan during his bilateral visit to the US in July and the more recent visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly did a good job in presenting to his American interlocutors Pakistan’s point of view on Pakistan-US relations, Kashmir, growing Hindu bigotry in India under the Modi-led government, India’s negative response to Pakistan’s repeated overtures for the resumption of dialogue to resolve outstanding disputes and promote peace in South Asia, and other important regional and global issues. However, while what has been achieved is commendable, it is not enough.

Essentially, the talks during IK’s visit to Washington were transactional rather than strategic in nature. We agreed to assist the US in Afghanistan in return for limited relief in the economic and military fields bilaterally and further support from the World Bank and its allied agencies to overcome Pakistan’s economic difficulties. The reality is that in the modern power-driven international political system, it is the economic, technological and scientific advancement and strength of a country more than anything else which determines its relative power and influence in the comity of nations. Of course, one cannot ignore political stability and the element of military power in assessing a country’s national power.

Therefore, for Pakistan’s voice to be heard in Washington and other capitals, it must emerge as a country enjoying political stability, a high level of economic, technological and scientific advancement, and a credible security deterrent. Mere statements and media campaigns, important though they are, will not serve our purposes. In the case of the US, we should also mobilize Pakistani expatriates in the US and cultivate effectively American foreign policy and security establishment, media, academics and other opinion makers to produce greater impact on American policy makers. Unfortunately, India is far ahead of us in all of these areas as even a short visit to the US brings home.

It is worth reiterating, however, that China’s containment remains the overarching US strategic goal for the foreseeable future. For this purpose, India rather than Pakistan is the natural US ally. Therefore, while trying to promote our national interests in the US as best as we can, we must remain conscious of both the potential and the limitations of Pakistan-US relations. Pakistan should beware of the real Indo-US game plan which aims at weaning it from its close strategic cooperation with China as partly reflected by CPEC and bringing it within the Indo-US orbit. If this game plan succeeds, Pakistan will be reduced to the status of an Indian satellite.

The writer is an author, a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.


Essentially, the talks during IK’s visit to Washington were transactional rather than strategic in nature.