Pakistan and the US: Quarrel or Divorce?

The Pakistani government is forcing the United States to depart the Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan within two weeks, as one of three steps taken to protest the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by US war planes on 26 November.

The incident was probably an example of friendly fire, though what exactly happened and why is murky. It added to a sense of crisis in US-Pakistani relations, for which 2011 has been a troubled year.

In the past year, a CIA contractor has shot down people in broad daylight, the US embarrassed Pakistan by not warning Islamabad of the assault on Usamah Bin Laden, and former chairmand of thejoint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, more or less accused Pakistan of complicity with the Haqqani Network in an attack on a US embassy in Kabul. In short, Pakistani self-respect has been dragged through the mud by Washington.

You can only imagine how Americans would feel if Pakistani agents were wandering American cities and occasionally offing people; and if Pakistani convoys were plying the country with military supplies for Pakistani bases in Canada, and Pakistani drones were zeroing in on mountaineer insurgents in the hills of Kentucky.

Some in the Pakistani press saw the attack as deliberate, and Jang speculated that the US was punishing Pakistan for its alleged support of the Haqqani group, which the US considers a terrorist organization.

But in the short to medium term, Pakistan and the US will repair their relationship, because what drives that tie is a set of common interests.

1. The US is the number one destination for Pakistani exports. Pakistan supplies the US with roughly 3% of the textiles imported to this country, but also brings in other Pakistani manufactures.

2. Not only is the US Pakistan’s number one trading partner, but the US alliance has been highly useful to Pakistan in opening to it the European market. The US was instrumental in convincing the European Union to offer Pakistan a unilateral trade concession, and in lobbying the World Trade Organization to permit it. Pakistan’s access to the German market, to which it sent $1.216 billion in exports this year, is thus in part a function of Islamabad’s alliance with Washington.

3. Pakistan is isolated and needs friends. Pakistani elites are improving relations with India, but they maintain a rivalry with New Delhi. They do not trust the Tajik (Persian-speaking) elites in neighboring Afghanistan, who they see as allied with India. They have indifferent relations with Iran. They have close relations with China, but China cannot fulfill the economic and political role for Pakistan that the United States does.

4. Pakistan has some of the same enemies as the United States. Both are threatened by the neo-Taliban, including the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or Pakistan Taliban Movement. They have a difference of opinion over the fundamentalist Haqqani Network, which the US views as a terrorist organization but which the Pakistani military sees as an authentic Afghan group that is allied with Pakistani interests.

The steps Pakistan took to protest the deaths of its troops are symbolic. Closing the Shamsi Base to the US does not seriously impede American ability to dominate the air or to get up covert action missions. It is an annoyance but not a blockage.

Pakistan refused to attend the summit on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany on Monday, as part of its protest against the US action. Euronews has video:

The Western donors, including Turkey, pledged to continue aid to Afghanistan after 2014. But there is no danger that Pakistan won’t be central to Afghanistan after 2014 when most NATO forces will have departed.

Pakistan and the United States have imperfectly overlapping goals and policies in the region. For this reason, they are continually falling into crisis with one another. But the overlaps are so extensive that they are typically brought back together over time.

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15 Responses

  1. Excellent analysis as usual u know, I just got back from bonn where I attended the civil society forum in advance of the main summit. As you will know, iran also boycotted bonn. Was wondering about your thoughts on that also

  2. Hard to tell what will happen, but Vietnam was not persuaded by Lyndon Johnson’s offer in 1965 of a Tennessee Valley Authority program in exchange for becoming an American puppet state. Pakistan may opt for independence and dignity over the convenience of being an American puppet state subject to daily humiliation. Certainly a substantial portion of the Pakistani public and military will feel that way. At a minimum, the passive-aggressive response we’ve seen since 2001 will not diminish, especially since the Pakistanis see like everyone else that the imperial will to fight is fading, and the Americans will be leaving town soon, whatever happens.

    “Chopping up imperial expeditionary forces since 1842”

    It’s better not to elect yourself the overseer of the affairs of others. Among other things, not enslaving others improves your chances of not being enslaved yourself, as tyranny abroad is imported into the homeland.

    • Isn’t it ironic that Vietnam today has rulers who have pretty much thrown out Ho Chi Minh’s Marxist-Leninist Socialism, and who are begging Americans to come to their country, invest there and do business? They don’t seem to think being friendly with the US is so bad, after all. Maybe the US did win the War in Vietnam in the long run?

      • Difference is that this time its on their terms and with WTO rules and with support of their Asean neighbours, not on US military spec diktat terms.

      • Take a run to Walmart or K-Mart or a lot of other stores, and check out the “made in” labels on the clothing shelves and racks. A lot of ’em read “made in Vietnam.” And gee, “we,” that thing people are simple and Stupid-Patriotic enough to think of as “the US,” left behind, when “we” finally killed enough “gooks” and got up and left, maybe half a trillion dollars in thank-you-very-much “bases” like Cam Ranh and Ton Son Nhut and Chu Lai and Da Nang, and a shitload of gear. All “paid for” by borrowing against the future earnings of the Real Economy, not that uniformed parasite that drains a third of everything to “fight wars” which is itself a euphemism for a power game accomplished by huge wealth transfers into a parallel “economy” and culture that produces NOTHING and is structured for obedience to patently venal command and is all about killing and blowing shit up. In the name of “security.” So tell me, Bill, and folks who buy into the Standard Model of US Hegemonics, just what was that whole exercise about, again? Other, of course, than the Smedley Butler Reality, that fundamental truth behind the “patriotic’ and “realpolitik” sloganeering, the one about War, The Business Model being just a Racket? I know, “This time it’s different.” Right?

        For those of you who are all weepy-eyed about Our Troops and how they are “protecting our freedoms” by killing Wogs and maneuvering-and-firing and whooping over what a 2000 lb bomb does to a couple of Wogs in the open, this veteran suggests you sign on to and get your secret, private, covert Call of Duties jollies from passively watching the videos from “gun cameras” and helmet-cams and the imagery from drone IR sensors and video taken by embedded “reporters.” One video title bragged about killing, via Hellfire explosion, a bunch of “taliban,” but if you look close it looks more like a family with two adults and three little kids just walking along a berm. “Taliban.” Right.

        There’s of course lots more of the same kind of “we do it because we can” crap, hidden in the BS about the “fog of war,” like the recent “kill team” that “lit up” civilian “hajjis” just because it’s fun, and there are practically no consequences. No weapons in sight, even. And listen closely, in the helmet-cam and embedded-reporter videos, to how your sons and daughters refer to what my generation reduced to “gook” and “slant” and “slope” and “dink.” And how they are all fired up to “take revenge.” This is what your grand stupid strategy is buying with all those trillions of dollars. That strategy that is pretty much “We kill some of them, so they kill some of us, so we kill some of them, so they kill some of us, so we kill some of them, so they kill some of us…” Oh, and dumping more trillions into the Maw of Moloch known as the MIC, to buy more “game-changing weapons.” Faugh. A pox on all of it.

        Proud of yourselves, folks? Proud of your imperial force projectors? Happy that your MIC, in all its various parts and perks, is spreading itself like some fetid, fecund slime mold across the whole planet, force-fitting everything into its Networked Battlespace frame, loyal only to itself? Feel more secure today?

  3. I do not disagree with your catalogue of US actions that Pakistan perceives as Washington “dragging it through the mud.” Circumstances being what they are, from a Pakistani viewpoint, it is understandable. But Pakistan’s grievances only tell one side of the story. The split between Pakistan’s civilian leadership and strong elements of the military is very real, they often don’t agree on the same agenda, and they sometimes work at cross-purposes.

    Let’s acknowledge that the United States has a few valid grievances of its own against Pakistan. For one, Usama Bin Laden was living among a Pakistani military establishment in Abbotobad in plain sight (figuratively speaking). No serious observer can think his presence was unknown to important elements of the Pakistani military. And no serious observer can honestly believe that if the US had told Pakistan of the mission to get Bin Laden that US Special Forces would have found him the night of the raid on his compound.

    Mike Mullen’s accusation that Pakistan was complicit with the Haqqani Network was on the mark. Mullen’s statement may have been undiplomatic, but it was true. There are important elements within Pakistan (mainly in the Army) that are complicit with and protective of the Haqqani Network.

    It is fine to point out those actions by the US that Pakistan finds objectionable. We need to know them in order to understand what makes Pakistan tick in this relationship. But in determining how valid Pakistan’s grievances are, we shouldn’t just accept Pakistan’s perceptions and version of events. For our own understanding of events, we should not hesitate to point out those actions by Pakistan that the United States has legitimate reason to find objectionable. In other words, let’s present a balanced picture of the strains in the relationship.

    • And the Pakistani Army has never accepted the independence of Afghanistan. They think they must have a monopoly on selecting its government. Now if that was the attitude of the civilian Pakistani government then we could deal with this diplomatically, but having an out-of-control Army that occasionally decapitates a civilian head of government but hides behind its coattails is not honest or honorable.

      Do the nukes make Pakistan a sovereign state, or a sovereign army holding a state hostage?

    • And lets not forget where Khalid Sheik Mohammed was hiding out, not a cave in Waziristan, in an apartment in Rawalpindi, the main Pak Army garrison town 11m (20km) from Islamabad.

  4. Just another bottle of “unserious” whine (my personal vintage) —

    I know it’s just the problem with short text formats, crippled additionally by a grammar and lexicon that seem better suited to boxing and football and gunfights than the complexities of “relations between nations.” But it would be so nice if someone would create a notation that gets away from the ol’ reification-hypostatisation-personification shallowness that drives so much of geopolitical pontificating and punditizing.

    “Pakistan” and “US” are convenient handles, but by habit of use the various players apparently fall into the notion that the cognomen is the whole, and that all the little bits and pieces that are actually in action are moved and driven by “its” motivations. Don’t we live in an increasingly post-national world, where corporate interests so largely grow their positions off playing the “players” against one another? Where obscure rogues, public and private, can initiate little tactical idiocies for ego satisfaction or “the best of reasons/intentions” or just because they can, tiny tails wagging huge dogs so that they inexorably bash their heads together?

    The foreign affairs mental processes everywhere in the world likely partake of the same shallow push to force-fit the universe into the categories the bossmen and “experts” (who are so almost universally proven wrong on some elephant issue they overlooked or dismissed as a mite on a flea’s back), time and Lucy-and-the-football time again, find personally aggrandizing and advantageous.

    If the hard sciences tell us anything, it seems to me the fundamental truth is that the universe (and the tiny subset that is human domination of this planet) is a lot stranger and more complex than we can imagine or know, especially far more complex than our rulers and industrialists either know or care. Maybe it’s just that our species is wired to self-destruct, in the pursuit of “legitimate self-interest” as defined by the basest and greediest and most hateful among us. Krauthammer and Cheney and Netanyahooo and your gang, and the “interests” that lie behind you, I’m talking about you. Hard-science people have developed quantum theories to account for the surprising little bits; nothing like that in International Relations, which freeze up at the level of dominance and violence and rapacity.

    And what of the fundamental truth that by definition, we are all in this together, like a couple of tabby cats that some prepubescent Jeffrey Dahmer has tied together by their tails and hung over a clothesline, tearing at each other rather than cooperating to chew through the string? And the other truth, that there really is enough of everything that really matters to go all the way around the table if Mr. Piggy can be made not to grab all the cookies but one, and sucker the rest of us into fighting over that last macaroon?

    Talking endlessly about “the US,” and “BRIC,” and “the Eurozone,” and “Myanmar opening,” just makes it easier for Mr. Piggy to swallow all the cookies and sucker the rest of us into laying out another plate for him.

    Seems to me, on a smaller scale, that one category is missing from the US-Pakistan analysis: The billions in overt trade are there, but in the “follow the money” vein, how much US Real Wealth flows to the various players in the map area called Pakistan every year, in the form of “military assistance” and various overt-opaque and covert “programs?” No doubt our policy-makers think they get some kind of quid-pro-quo for this gifting, but then they or their predecessors thought it would be a good idea to butter up with weapons and wealth the same Iranian government that is being demonized and called the latest “Wag the Dog,” Hollywood-fraud “pariah state.” (I hesitate to even use the phrase, every repetition only adds “gravamen” to the BS.) Does that flux of wealth help or hinder any of the various games in process?

    Tell us again, what is/are the goal(s) of The Game?

  5. I think the shortcoming in this analysis is that you assume that Pakistani leaders, and the popular currents to which they respond, share your basically materialist framework for assessing interests. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment is rife with religious extremists whose concerns are as much mystical and tribal as they are about selling textiles to infidels. These sorts of bases for nationalism have driven many nations in directions that appear “irrational” from the standpoint of peace and prosperity, including our own. Did it make any sense from a rational assessment of the national interest for the U.S. to invade Iraq?

    I would not count on what seems like good sense to Juan Cole (and to me) to prevail.

  6. Puck Fakistan.

    This would be an excellent time for Joe Biden to visit New Delhi, capital of the world’s largest democracy. Maybe he can lay a wreath for the victims of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

    One good reason to end the Afghan War sooner rather than later: so we can stop pretending India and Pakistan are equivalent.

  7. The fourth point you make contains a tinge of historical irony, doesn’t it? Guess who else considered the Haqqani Network an authentic ally of its interests, once upon a time?

    I imagine the foreign policy of the United States must leave many in the region dazed and confused. Trying to keep track of who we support and who we oppose from one decade to the next is hard enough for us Americans, let alone those whose villages are attacked by drone strikes and whose dictators (and even democratically elected leaders) are sometimes overthrown, sometimes not.

  8. I have a feeling that all the Pakistani bravado today is converging in a particular direction. Firing of the Pakistani ambassador to US, stoppage of NATO supply line, closing of Shamsi base, emerging popular dissent under Imran Khan, giving India most favored nation status, thanking the Taliban for keeping the truce on Ashura and virtually no serious bombings in big cities for the past couple of months point to the very expedient nature of this conflict.

    Americans are not the only ones thinking about some viable and ‘honorable’ exit strategy. With Pakistani government entering its last year before elections, it wants to gain a moral high ground against the opposition.

  9. I imagine there will be more than a few here who don’t read the German Media. Here’s a recent article from Die Speigel, its in English, its two pages which may not be obvious, see bottom right corner of text. Gives a nuanced spin on what’s happening next door in Afghanistan.

    Power Plays in Afghanistan : Laying the Groundwork for Civil War ==>> link to

    • Oliver, in case you missed the moreofthesameness of all that stuff in your link, you might enjoy (?) reading a book by one Gary Schroen, CIA field operative/paramilitary, titled “First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan.” Gee, how things in that tribal, Byzantine part of the world, with its terrain and people, have changed (not) and how interesting that one can do all kinds of tactical and strategic shit and be nothing but a sucker drawn into the local games, dreams of empire in one’s head… But then, it’s mostly about wealth transfer, anyway — Schroen ‘disbursed’ many millions in shrink-wrapped blocks of US $100 bills, to “buy the loyalty” of this or that “commander” or warlord. Worked great, right? Like Our Boys paying local “militias” (what you call them instead of “taliban” when you are ‘friending’ them) to not attack US truck convoys, or to “change sides” in some Operation or other… Or how about CIA guys bragging about “buying the loyalty” of a warlord by supplying him with Viagra?

      “We” are a huge, dumb, rich-on-the-way-to-poverty brute — even a lot of Israelis refer to “us” as Uncle Sucker…

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