While the US’s aggression against Pakistan has to be condemned in the most unequivocal of terms, we cannot deny the fact that we have to strengthen our country internally. We have to usher in genuine, unfettered democracy and strengthen our institutions to stand up to coercive pressures from big powers like the United States.
This was the consensus among the panelists at a discussion on Pak-US relations held under the aegis of the Jang Forum at the Newports Institute of Communications and Economics on Wednesday.
The panelists, Huma Baqai, head of Social Sciences, Institute of Business Administration, Karachi University; former ambassador Zafar Hilaly; and Dr Mutahir Ahmed, from the Department of International Affairs, Karachi University, had their own perceptions and arguments.
Huma Baqai in her assessment of the situation said that things were sure to develop in a certain direction because Pakistan was drawing new lines with a paradigm shift taking place. She said that it was to be expected that the US would respect those lines as it was not just Pakistan that needed the US but the US needed Pakistan as much.
She underlined the need to first set “our own house in order”. Reminding the participants of the age-old axiom “fishing in troubled waters”, she said that the same thing could happen to Pakistan. In this context, she cited the “inept” handling of the situation in Balochistan, and earlier in the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) which had given rise to fissures and divisive tendencies and had divided the nation. Such a situation, she said, would always invite hostile powers to exploit the internal situation to achieve their vicious agendas.
Baqai regretted that US-Pakistan ties were determined by the microscopic but powerful elite who had their own axe to grind and the masses were totally disempowered in this case. She cited the impending presidential election in the US next November, and said the US conduct in global affairs, especially the stance on Pakistan, had to be viewed in that context. Baqai warned that the present spat with the US could have an adverse economic reaction as Karachi’s port was being clogged with Nato supplies on account of the moratorium on passage of goods to Afghanistan. This, she said, could create economic complications.
Former ambassador Zafar Hilaly had a more hard line approach and, citing the case of North Korea, queried as to why the US did not bomb North Korea. He said North Korea had responded to overt US threats of military action. It warned the US that it would rain missiles on South Korea which could kill thousands of US GIs stationed there.
He said that North Korea had made it clear to the US that force would be met with force. As a result, he said, the US dare not embark on a military adventure against North Korea.
Hilaly fully endorsed Pakistan’s decision not to attend the Bonn moot on Afghanistan. He was of the view that the main snag in the smooth ties with the US was economic as that was the exclusive preserve of the elite whose interests did not necessarily coincide with those of the country or the masses. He said the Taliban considered Pakistan their enemy number one and the US number two. Citing Bob Woodward’s book, “Osama’s Wars”, he said that the Pak-US conflagration was a “General’s War”.
Dr Mutahir’s views seemed to be more coolly thought over. He was of the opinion that all foreign policy woes, especially those pertaining to the spat with the US, stemmed from “our own utter mismanagement of our domestic political issues”. He cited the insurgency and rebellion in Balochistan for which he blamed the authoritarian foisting of the establishment’s solution on the people without taking their wishes and aspirations into consideration.
He said political adventurism which had become a hallmark of successive Pakistani governments would prove very harmful. He regretted that unelected powers in Pakistan had been very strong all along and as such the interests of the masses and the nation could never be reflected in them. He said that a country where there was galloping poverty and the human development index was abysmally low could never be expected to be strong enough to face external and internal challenges and would always be bullied by big powers.
He was of the opinion that Pakistan’s approach to its ties with the US must be based on objectivity and realism, and while its fury at the US was understandable, “we must never lose sight of reality and must realise that we are no match to the US strength and must formulate a viable approach from that perspective”.