In the management of Pakistan’s relations with the US, Pakistan’s policy makers have been, more often than not, the victims of illusions. In their deliberations, wishful thinking rather than realism has taken the pride of place. It seems that once again, forced primarily by short-sighted security and economic considerations, the Nawaz Sharif government is slowly but surely sliding into the trap of excessive dependence on the US and the consequent strategic vulnerability to its dictates from which it will be difficult to extricate later. The perusal of the joint statement issued after the latest session of the resumed strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the US leads one to the conclusion that we are trying to rebuild the bilateral relationship based on transitory considerations instead of enduring strategic realities.

The edifice of partnership built on such a fragile foundation is unlikely to endure for long. It will crumble in the face of the emerging strategic trends at the global and regional levels. We should instead aim at a more limited but also a more realistic relationship with the US, which takes into account both the convergence and divergence of the interests of the two countries. Such a relationship would be more enduring and beneficial than the one which is based on unrealistic expectations leading to mutual recriminations and repeated crises as has been our past experience.

The test of diplomacy is to identify and expand the areas of convergence of national interests and mutually beneficial cooperation between Pakistan and the US. Simultaneously, efforts should be made to limit the damaging effects of divergent national interests through mutual understanding and accommodation. There is a degree of convergence of interests of the two countries in such areas as peace and stability in Afghanistan and South Asia, counter-terrorism, nuclear security and non-proliferation, development of Pakistan as a stable and progressive democracy, and Pakistan as a voice of moderation in the Muslim world. Pakistan and the US would do well to develop mutual cooperation in these areas keeping in view each other’s sensitivities.

But we should not lose sight of the several areas of divergence of interests between the two countries. Perhaps the most important among them is the fact that Pakistan is not a part of the US grand strategic design for Asia aimed at containing China. Pakistan because of its strategic partnership with China and limitations of power lacks both the will and the capability to play any role in the containment of China. From the US point of view, India as an emerging economic giant and the largest functioning democracy in the world is ideally suited to counteract the expansion of China’s power in Asia and the Indian Ocean region. This factor is mainly responsible for the policy of the de-hyphenation of the US relations with India and Pakistan allowing it to place its relationship with India on a much higher plane than that with Pakistan.

This policy was adopted by the Bush administration, which announced in 2005 its resolve to build up India as a major power of the 21st century, and has been continued by the Obama administration. Barring some unforeseen and dramatic changes in the global strategic scenario, it will remain an important feature of the US global strategic posture. So strictly speaking, it is India which has now become American ally and strategic partner. Pakistan-US cooperation, on the other hand, is limited by mutual mistrust and strategic divergence. These realities explain the rapidly growing American cooperation with India in strategic and nuclear fields. So while Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz was right in complaining during the resumed Ministerial level strategic dialogue about the excessive attention that the US pays to Indian concerns as compared with those of Pakistan, the ground realities are not going to change because of such complaints. We will simply have to learn to live with the fact that in the foreseeable future, the US will continue to attach higher priority to its relationship with India as compared with US-Pakistan relations.

Both Pakistan and the US are committed to the struggle against terrorism and the goal of peace and stability in Afghanistan. This convergence of interests provides ground for mutually beneficial cooperation. Unfortunately, however, their strategies for the elimination of terrorism and for facilitating the restoration of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan suffer from wide divergences primarily because of the US efforts to impose a government of its choice on the Afghan people in total disregard of the Afghan political and cultural realities.

The need of the hour is for Pakistan and the US to have a frank exchange of views to find common ground in their strategies for dealing with the Afghanistan situation, especially in the post-2014 scenario. Ideally, they should concert their efforts for facilitating national reconciliation and a political settlement for the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan in which the various Afghan groups and parties including the Taliban and the rest, or the Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns have their due share in power. The failure of the Afghan parties to reach such a settlement by the end of this year can plunge Afghanistan into a ferocious civil war with incalculable destructive consequences for Afghanistan and for the whole region.

Unfortunately, the joint statement issued at the end of the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue held in Washington recently merely pays lip service to the need for national reconciliation in Afghanistan, which would require the adoption of a new constitution and the restructuring of the existing Afghan government to reflect the new political settlement. Instead of recognizing the inevitability of the foregoing in the interest of durable peace in Afghanistan, the joint statement calls for respecting “the historic achievements that Afghanistan has made over the past decade.” One wonders whether those who issued the joint statement had the continuing armed conflict, the huge loss of Afghan lives and material destruction, the violations of the Afghan cultural traditions, or the increased drug production and trafficking in mind when they were referring to the so-called “historic achievements” made in Afghanistan.

Washington’s failure to learn from its past mistakes and its continued efforts to impose on the Afghans a government reflecting its political preferences and values rather than the Afghan ground realities and cultural traditions will keep Afghanistan destabilized and embroiled in an armed conflict. A destabilized Afghanistan in the grip of a civil war would encourage cross-border militancy because of tribal links, thus, further inflaming the insurgency in Afghanistan. It would also frustrate the efforts of the government of Pakistan to defeat and overcome the monster of terrorism stalking the country.

We should manage our relations with the US keeping in view a realistic assessment of both its potential and limitations. Only such an approach would enable us to develop an enduring and mutually beneficial relationship with the US in security, economic, commercial, and technical fields. A relationship based on erroneous assumptions, flawed analysis, and unrealistic expectations would not serve the cause of lasting friendship between the two countries. The resultant disappointments and frustrations would instead inflict severe damage on the bilateral relationship.

Unfortunately, the joint statement issued at the end of the resumed strategic dialogue in Washington ignores strategic realities, raises false hopes, and may be the harbinger of further crises in Pakistan-US relations. It also holds out the prospect of increased dependence on the US in security and economic fields, thereby aggravating our strategic vulnerability and encouraging the US to dictate to us at the expense of our national interests.

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