In a marked departure from our national trait, let us for once face the harsh reality. The reality is that since 1950’s, Pakistan mostly has been and continues to be a client state of the United States. This master-client relationship between the two countries has been underpinned by substantial US economic and military assistance to Pakistan in return for services rendered by us during the Cold War and subsequently. As anybody even remotely familiar with the way Washington operates should know, the US economic and military assistance is an important instrument of its foreign policy. This should not cause any surprise to keen observers of international politics. After all, there is no free lunch in the game of nations.

The US, therefore, expects that in return for its economic and military assistance and support to us in other forms, Pakistan would cooperate with it in the fulfillment of its foreign policy objectives. In fact, the master-client relationship by its very nature requires that the client state should operate within the limits set by the master state. The US uses the carrot-and-stick policy to keep its client states like Pakistan under control.  The problems in Pakistan-US relations arise when Pakistan, instead of complying with Washington’s wishes, tries to follow its own agenda in its own perceived national interest. Such situations led in the past to the suspension or termination of the US economic and military assistance and the application of sanctions against us in other forms.

The tragedy is that we simply refuse to learn from history. In good times, ignoring the possibility of divergence of interests with the US at some time in the future, we increase our dependence on it, thus, giving it the lever with which to control us. Perhaps we keep on hoping against hope that our defiance of the US wishes would not have any adverse consequences in the form of the US sanctions against us. We feel betrayed when this does not happen in the real world. As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, which has the pretensions of dealing with the US in accordance with the principle of sovereign equality, appears to be suffering from the same delusion. Hopefully, the experience of his recent visit to Washington would act as an eye- opener. It is obvious that he undertook the visit without adequate home-work and with exaggerated expectations. It is not surprising, therefore, that the joint statement issued at the end of the visit hardly contained anything new and substantial.

Nawaz Sharif’s appeal for the US intervention in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute was rejected by both India and the US. Instead, he had to listen to Obama’s demands for action against Hafiz Saeed and JuD. There was no progress on the issue of our access to civilian nuclear technology. Nawaz Shrarif’s request for the termination of drone attacks similarly met a negative response from Obama. Instead, he had to undergo the indignity of a calculated leak by the US government to the Washington Post alleging that the drone attacks were carried out by the US in the past with the connivance of our previous governments, thus, exposing their hypocrisy and duplicity. On top of that, the US launched new drone attacks after Nawaz Sharif’s request to terminate them, just to show how little importance it attached to it. One of these drone attacks, which killed Hakimullah Mehsud, has virtually scuttled the process of dialogue with the TTP which was about to start as recommended by the APC. The attack showed that there was a wide gulf between the views of the two countries in fighting terrorism.

Even from the point of view of optics, the way Nawaz Sharif was shunted around in Washington from pillar to post for several days before his “audience” with Obama was pathetic. It showed the disdain with which the US authorities handled his visit. In fact, considering the meager results of the visit and the rebuff that Nawaz Sharif got from the Obama administration on several critical issues, one wonders about the justification for undertaking the visit at this time. Normally, visits at the Head of Government level should not be undertaken when the certainty of significant positive results has not been ensured through advance preparatory work at the Ministerial and senior official levels. Nawaz Sharif’s visit failed this important test.

An objective analysis of the Pakistan-US relationship before Nawaz Sharif’s visit would have shown the unlikelihood of significant progress in view of the wide gulf between the views of the two countries on several strategic issues relating to terrorism, Afghanistan, Pakistan-India relations, Iran and China. Our excessive dependence on the US in many fields weakened our bargaining position, precluding the possibility of satisfactory results. The fact that the visit was undertaken nevertheless showed our leadership’s chronic tendency to live in fools’ paradise, our desperate economic situation, and the serious energy crisis from which the country is suffering. It also reflects our national trait to try to find solutions of our domestic problems through assistance from foreign capitals instead of relying upon our own efforts to put our house in order.

Time has come for our political and military leaders, senior officials, and the nation as a whole to come out of their dream-world. In the competition for survival and progress in the comity of nations, there is no substitute for a nation’s own efforts. The need of the hour, therefore, is constant hard work and the application of our minds and energies to finding solutions of our national problems.  External assistance at best can play only a marginally helpful role. The inclination to rely on external help for overcoming our problems has not helped us in the past and is unlikely to help us in the future. In fact, our excessive dependence on other countries gives a handle in their hands to prevent us from acting in our best national interest. Look at the way in which the US has opposed and prevented us so far from implementing the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project which is in our best national interest.

If we wish to be treated with dignity and respect by other countries, we must also start living within our own resources by breaking the begging bowl. This can happen only if Pakistan’s well-to-do classes adopt a simple style of life. Unfortunately, one does not see any sign of this happening in the near future, particularly because of the addiction of our leaders and elite to ostentatious living. The policy of austerity should be accompanied by better management of the economy and steps to root out corruption. Our foreign policy goals must be decided keeping in view the limits of our resources and national power. If we aim too high as we have been doing in the past, we are likely to end up with the case of strategic exhaustion from which we are currently suffering. We should instead adopt a low-risk foreign policy. Kargil type adventures should be totally ruled out.

Learning from China’s experience since 1978, we should make rapid economic development within secure and peaceful borders as our supreme national aim and subordinate all our national policies to the realization of this over-arching goal. This would require, inter alia, the allocation of most of the nation’s resources to the task of economic development. Henceforth, the guiding principles of our nation should be self-reliance and a low-risk foreign policy in the service of the supreme national goal of accelerating our economic development.

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