SENATORS from both sides of the aisle argued the other day that the current pro-American policy, a product of the military establishment, should give way to an independent stance. Mr Raza Rabbani, a PPP spokesman and leader of the House, endorsed this call and added that his party had never had any connection with the ‘establishment’ and its fashioning of a pro-American policy.
These assertions are not correct. Pakistan adopted a distinctly pro-American policy beginning about 1954 when a civilian government was in place. It joined US-sponsored anti-communist alliances in the Middle East and Southeast Asia and began receiving American military and economic assistance. This policy direction continued during Ayub Khan’s rule and, in varying measure, during subsequent military regimes. But it is wrong to say that the military establishment had initiated it.
It should be noted here that the so-called alliance with the United States did not keep Pakistan from developing close relations with China, the communist giant in Asia whose influence the United States also wished to contain. American officials did not approve of Pakistan’s advances towards China but made no serious moves to stop them.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States during Gen Ziaul Haq’s rule and then again during Gen Musharraf’s regime became more specifically transactional than those of a generalised rapport. America needed Pakistan’s assistance for the attainment of its objectives in Afghanistan (expulsion of Soviet forces from that country during the 1980s and more recently the eradication of Islamic militants). Pakistan provided the needed assistance and received compensation for services rendered. The transaction did not make Pakistan a ‘friend’ or ally of America (except in the wishful thinking of some Pakistani commentators). Their relationship has remained essentially like that between a buyer and seller, even though it has included some peripheral American interest in Pakistan’s well-being. It was a bargain that governments in Pakistan made quite willingly.
Each side has had some minor dissatisfactions. Pakistan wants to be treated on par with India, which the United States has declined to do on the ground that Pakistan is not potentially the world power that India is. American officials approve of Musharraf because he has done a good job as an instrument of their policy, but they have not been happy with his being a military dictator. They have urged adoption of genuine democracy, honest elections, and respect for human rights.
The United States is not keeping Pakistan from pursuing an ‘independent’ foreign policy. It does not seek to influence Pakistan’s relations with the rest of the world, and Pakistan is able to reject its advice in those few cases in which it is offered. Pakistan has declined to support the American campaign to isolate Iran, and it has gone ahead with negotiating a gas pipeline deal with the Iranian government, and no American penalties have ensued. The United States has been advocating peace between Pakistan and India and this is a policy that successive governments in Pakistan have accepted for their own reasons regardless of American urgings.
The Bush administration is more than satisfied with Pakistan’s role in combating extremism and the accompanying terrorism. It is this area of policy that invites criticism from certain political forces in Pakistan. It is a complicated issue. Both Pakistan and America disapprove of extremism as such because it disrupts the good order of society. There is thus a mutuality of interest and identity of views on a vital issue.
But each side also has its own reasons for wanting to eradicate extremism and terrorism. Islamic extremists are anti-American. They want to expel American presence and dominance from the Muslim world. It is Pakistan’s assistance in the suppression of this anti-American drive to which critics in the Senate and elsewhere object. Pakistan, they say, is fighting America’s war and its army is killing its own people in its tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
But ‘our own people’ here are killing others of ‘our own people’. The critics believe that negotiations, and not force, should be employed to persuade them to stop their operations within Pakistan. American officials, who used to be sceptical, are now willing to give negotiations a chance and see what they will accomplish. If negotiations do not get anywhere, Prime Minister Gilani’s government will have to decide whether to use force against the militants or yield our territory and people to their control.
Let us now take up the matter of the PPP’s connection with the ‘establishment’. Raza Rabbani asserts that there never has been, and there isn’t now, any. He is a good old socialist, true to his party’s professed ideological commitments, and a man of honour. He declined a post in Mr Gilani’s cabinet because he did not wish to be sworn in by a president whom he regarded as illegitimate. I believe he has no desire to be an ally of the military establishment, and that he has had no part in the fashioning of its pro-American policy. But he does not control the thinking of his party’s top leaders.
It is a well-known fact that following the 1988 elections, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan invited Benazir Bhutto to form a government only after she had conceded the military establishment’s primacy in certain areas of policymaking. In her second term as prime minister, her inability to get along with successive army chiefs was a major reason, among others, for her dismissal. It is also a well known fact that she had been negotiating a deal with Gen Musharraf for almost a year, and finally made one before her return to Pakistan in October 2007. After her assassination last December, Mr Zardari has continued to honour it.
It is equally well-known that her return to Pakistan had been facilitated by the Bush administration’s intercessions with Musharraf. She came lavishly praising the American anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering that country. She declared her own resolve to eradicate the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban living in Pakistan. She went out of her way to present herself as America’s vice regent in Pakistan — a stance that may have cost her life.
This is where the PPP has stood with regard to the military establishment in this country and its interaction with the United States, Mr Rabbani’s preferences in these matters notwithstanding.