Let us begin with the recently raised question by some American intellectuals and writers viz. whether America is merely a powerful nation-state or an “empirical power”. According to this theory, since the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of USSR in 1991, there has been a shift from the past and, wittingly or unwittingly, the US has emerged as an empire like the past empires of Rome, Ottoman or the British Empire. This was initially expressed by using the phrases, “sole superpower”, “manifest destiny”, “new world order” or “contentious message”, indicating the end of history. I tend to agree with the broad proposition that, unintentionally, USA has become and behaves as an empire.

Due to its military, economic and hard or soft power, American policymakers view the world as if USA is an empirical power having jurisdiction over a vast territory or states of the world; albeit with the difference that the empires of the past had to occupy and show their physical presence within the colonies under their domain, which were run by an administration headed by a viceroy or governor nominated by such power. The modern empire like USA, due to the technological developments in the last century, can achieve the same impact and result through “informal structure” due to its capacity for global outreach, through its air and military power, control of ocean, rapid deployment forces, surveillance drones and drones carrying lethal missiles now flying in hundreds and thousands all over the world and its frightening capacity of surveillance (through cyber intervention). Instead of a nominated viceroy or governor whom the power that be, used to change from time to time, the capacity of regime change has been perfected by CIA, Pentagon and White House, giving it the similar advantage. The US has achieved expertise in this field over the years (despite Founding Fathers of the Republic warning against any temptation in this regard or Noam Chomsky and others protesting). It has effectively and obtrusively replaced unwanted regimes with a more favourable one - be it small states in Latin America or Mohammad Mossadque of Iran/Persia or democratic government in Algiers and the removal of President Mohammad Morsi and his party in Egypt. Even the change of some governments in Pakistan can be traced to the same Machiavellian manoeuvre by US governments. According to Chomsky, though regime change is a new term in the lexicon, the US is an old hand at regime change.

Instead of occupying a territory, an informal empire maintains bases close to and around the territory it controls. The US has various types of bases such as air force, army or land and navy bases, in addition to the mysterious communication centre or spying bases studded over all the five continents of the world. By official estimate, the number of these bases runs into hundreds. Successful cyber spying into government confidential records of the meetings hacked of the foreign governments has forced Russian to plan and return to earlier manual typewriters for the maintenance of their top security meetings. This generates an uncomfortable feeling.  The US empire being an informal structure, no one state can be sure - other than maybe Russia or China (or any future state if allowed to develop militarily, technically and economically as strong as these two states) - if it is not a part of the US empire, watched and controlled by the White House.

Yet, there is potential advantage for Pakistan in this new setting. As the interest of every nation-state (which we are) demands, we must first see the true picture of the world and plan our strategy to advance our interest sans any feelings of comfort or otherwise, or even the ethics or morality.

By passing the contentious debate of what is moral or ethical in managing foreign affairs, which maybe addressed by the UN General Assembly, who may act through resolutions or if possible conventions. To me, the evidence indicates that over the years, the historical process and other events have brought into existence a sort of an empire, which can now be perceived as operating in the world today and we have to seek space for our welfare accordingly.

This calls for deep analysis and study of how the empires behave. History is a witness that it is the habit of an empire to maintain a balance of power in different regions to ensure that no other power or state dominates the other to an extent that it becomes an irritation or challenge to the empirical power. It hates challenges by its “colonies”. Derogatory version of the same is “divide and rule policy”.

In that background, our region consists of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Recently, the US wrongly started considering and dealing Afghanistan and Pakistan as if it is one country on account of ethnic affinity between a significant part of Pakistani community and Afghanistan, and also due to relaxed border between the two countries. Washington expressed its understanding of this part of the world through the AfPak policy. However, as US is now trying to leave Afghanistan, though after destabilising the country and being aware that it has not been able to replace a force which can control the re-emergence of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, it has correctly revised its thinking and is now convinced that stability within Afghanistan is dependant on a stable and strong Pakistan. Many influential US policymakers, civil and military, have expressed the same by saying: “The key to peace in the region is with Pakistan.”

The White House and Pentagon have realised that if Pakistan is destabilised due to its internal weakness, or because of its pressure to fight against Al-Qaeda while supporting US forces, the result would be that no number of American troops would be able to control the 200 million people of combined Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Additionally, a truly significant balance of power in the region has to be between Pakistan and India - both of whom are obsessed with each other and are nuclear states. If a destabilised Pakistan disintegrates, India would be tempted to use its resources to dominate the Indian Ocean by increasing its navy. Minus a stable Pakistan, a triumphant India would destroy the balance of power in the region. This is why the primary American strategy, for the coming years, in the region would be to help create a strong viable Pakistan (“The next Decade” by George Friedman). A strong Pakistan with the professional army will be more successful than US presence in Afghanistan in controlling (though not eliminating) the Taliban in the area. This is as much a geopolitical reality as the presence of an informal empire, which will be forced by events briefly mentioned above to strengthen Pakistan and its army, boost its economy, and support the democratic process.

This brings to my mind the events of the birth of Pakistan. We achieved our independence on August 14, 1947, and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was sworn in as Governor General on August 15. The US was amongst the first countries to recognise Pakistan on August 15, when President Harry S. Truman sent a congratulatory message to Jinnah “on its emergence among the family of nations.” The Quaid was courteous enough and with an eye for the future, reproduced the contents of this message later in his speech. It is also reported by some reliable historians that during worst financial crises faced by Pakistan, the Quaid did ask USA to play a constructive role to ease its financial problems. At that time, it was remotely interested in a new country emerging on the map of the world. Today’s USA, however, is strategically involved with Pakistan existing since 1947 with a population of 180 million and as the seventh nuclear state with a fine army and an adequate democratic structure.

Combining the two scenarios of the year 1947-48 and of the present times, the strategy on the part of Pakistani governments should be to fully avail of the new mindset that the White House is working on to maintain balance of power and to strengthen Pakistan as a key to the solution. To cooperate with the country that you may not like is as patriotic, as recommending a challenge to a superpower (now the empirical power) - particularly, when the former appears to be more workable than later.  I hope our leaders have the will and skill to hammer a strategy, which fits into the existing puzzle to Pakistan’s advantage. I believe the history of the moment is on the side of Pakistan. Pakistan Paindabad!

The writer is a senator, human rights activist and former law minister of Pakistan.