The role played by the US recently to push, unsuccessfully, for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) while denying support to Pakistan’s bid for its membership has brought home once again Washington’s double standards in dealing with critical nuclear non-proliferation issues and the decision taken by the Bush administration about a decade ago to de-hyphenate its relations with India and Pakistan. This de-hyphenation was a clever way to send the signal that henceforth the US would deal with India at a higher strategic level compared with Pakistan which would continue to be subjected to all sorts of pressures to comply with its demands to “do more” for pacifying the situation in Afghanistan. It didn’t matter to the US leaders and generals that the unravelling of the situation in Afghanistan was the logical outcome of their flawed policies pursued in the post 9/11 period.

Interestingly, the US policy of de-hyphenating its relations with Pakistan and India occurred precisely when Pervez Musharraf, who was over-eager to please Washington by taking military action against his own countrymen in the tribal areas for the sake of American dollars, was leading this hapless nation as the President and the Chief of Army Staff. The inevitable result was the creation of TTP which launched terrorist attacks against targets throughout Pakistan. Pakistan paid a heavy price for complying with the US demands in the form of over 50,000 casualties and estimated economic losses of about $100 billion.

The policy differences between Pakistan and the US did play an important role in tarnishing Pakistan’s image in the US and aggravating the difficulties and tensions in Pakistan-US relations. In the US, Pakistan was projected as the supporter of the Taliban, the proponents of an obscurantist ideology, who were blamed for providing sanctuary to Al Qaeda and were, thus, seen as indirectly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The reality, however, was that no Afghan or member of the Taliban group was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the post 9/11 scenario, it was Pakistan which was blamed by the US for providing sanctuaries to the Taliban in its tribal areas. American leaders and generals refused to acknowledge, despite several studies by saner elements, that it was the US policy to impose a government of its own choice on the Afghan people through its military power, which was the real cause of its troubles in Afghanistan. It took almost a decade of futile fighting in Afghanistan for the Americans to realise that the only sensible way out of the Afghan quagmire was national reconciliation and a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban who were belatedly recognised by the US as a legitimate Afghan political group, and not terrorists, fighting for their due share in the Afghan government.

One may, therefore, ask the Americans with some justification that if this was the case, why they had pressurised Pakistan to take military action against the Afghan Taliban who had taken refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas because of the porous nature of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and because of their tribal links with those living on the Pakistani side of the border. Anybody who had any understanding of these links knew that the tribesmen on the Pakistani side would sooner or later take up arms in support of their tribal brethren from Afghanistan in their fight against, as they saw, a foreign occupation force. After all this was what the Americans themselves and the Pakistan government had helped them to do two decades earlier when Afghanistan had been invaded and occupied by the Soviet army. If it was all right for our tribesmen to help their Afghan brethren when they were fighting the Soviets, why was it a crime now when the American forces instead had occupied Afghanistan? When history is written, the Americans and the government of General Pervez Musharraf, which, by the way, had been fully supporting the Taliban government in Afghanistan right up to 9/11, would have to provide some reasonable answers to these questions.

Perhaps the only logical answer to these questions lies in the anarchic nature of the international politics in which power rather than morality is the ultimate arbiter of strategic issues of war and peace. Powerful countries like the US are able to bend, or even violate, the principles of international law and the UN Charter, to suit their convenience. After all, the US was able to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003 without any sanction by the UN Security Council in a blatant violation of its legal obligations under the UN Charter.

America’s illogical demands on Pakistan concerning the Taliban continue unabated. They want us to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table while expecting us to take stern military action against them. Taking into account the possibility of the blowback effect of the military action against the Taliban on our soil, Sartaj Aziz, Adviser on Foreign Affairs, was right when he stated in a recent interview with the Reuters, “There are risks involved of how far we can go and in what sequence we should go and in what scale we should go.” The Americans also want us to keep bearing the burden of over 1.8 million Afghan refugees knowing fully well that the Afghan refugee camps can plausibly provide sanctuaries for the Taliban militants.

But Pakistan-US policy differences on Afghanistan are not the only factor which has pushed the US closer to India over the past decade and a half. An even more important factor was the over-arching US objective in Asia to contain the expansion of China’s power and influence propelled by the phenomenal growth of its economy and the strengthening of its military might. India was the obvious country of choice for the US to act as the counterweight to China in South Asia and the Indian Ocean regions. India for its own strategic and security considerations is eager to play that role. Pakistan instead considers its strategic partnership with China as the corner-stone of its security policy. CPEC is the logical outcome of the rapidly growing Pakistan-China strategic partnership and economic cooperation. Unsurprisingly, both India and the US have their respective misgivings about this project which has far-reaching strategic, economic and commercial implications for Pakistan, China and the region.

Under the circumstances, Pakistan must lower its expectations from the US in the foreseeable future. The decision by the US Congress to deny funding for the purchase of F-16 aircraft and Washington’s support to India’s bid for membership of the NSG while rejecting Pakistan’s request for similar support are pointers of the future shape of things. The recent visits of the US Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain and Ambassador Richard Olson, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, are not likely to change the ground realities to Pakistan’s advantage. This is not, however, an argument to spoil our friendly relationship with the US which still remains the most powerful economic and military power in the world. Instead, we should recognise both the potential and the limitations of our friendship with the US and manage our future relationship with it on a realistic basis. It would also be in our interest to diversify our external relations to lessen our economic and military dependence on Washington. Within this framework we should take advantage of all reasonable possibilities of expanding cooperation with the US in various fields. A carefully crafted policy of self-reliance would have to be an essential element of our future strategy.