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Pak-US Strategic Dialogue: Bridging the Trust Deficit


By Dr Raja Muhammad Khan

The high-level round of Pak-US Strategic Dialogues with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qurushi leading their respective delegations was held in Washington, from 24-25 March 2010. The dialogues were conducted in an atmosphere of friendship and cordiality. Apart from reviewing the nature of the bi-lateral relationship and extent of cooperation, both countries decided to further strengthen the bilateral relationship for the betterment of their people. “They reiterated that the core foundations of this partnership are shared democratic values, mutual trust, and mutual respect. A stable, enduring, and broad-based cooperative partnership is in the fundamental interest of both countries.” At the conclusion of the strategic dialogue process, both sides agreed to constitute a “Policy Steering Group” for expanding the sectoral dialogue process in the field of economy, defense, energy, diplomacy, and to meet the challenges of various threats, like terrorism and extremism. From the realistic point of view, for the first time US admitted and admired the role-played by Pakistan against the menace of extremism and terrorism.

Indeed, the Pak-US alliance is a history of a bumpy relationship or at times, as now openly admitted by some of the US think tanks, as the marriage of convenience. The biggest problem this relationship has been facing was the trust deficit. The people of Pakistan feel that U.S has used Pakistan as and when needed and left it in seclusion thereafter, until needed again. Thus, the Pakistani nation as a whole felt betrayed many a times in its sixty-two years of history or at least for the duration of this alliance. There have been a number of occasions, when both countries undertook high-level meetings, negotiations, and rounds of strategic dialogues. Unfortunately, from the Pakistani perspective, the outcome of most of these talks has been momentary, unrewarding, and vague. The much-desired new beginning of the mutual understanding, though realized late, but is a positive step in the right direction. Surely, the credit goes to the leadership who were involved in the dialogue process. However, all those who paved the way to make the process a success, deserved much more appreciation.

The maiden test of this dialogue would be the restoration of the trust, which somehow has been the most desired constituent of the bilateral relationship of both countries. Moreover, if this exclusive round of strategic talk was able to restore the trust, how long would it last? This of course would be a test of our diplomacy, but more than this, the dictates of the future strategic interests of both countries, especially the US interest, as the sole super power. Indeed, over the years, the vicissitudes in the Pak-US relationship and discriminatory behaviour of the West has taught us to be realistic in the growth of its future alliance. At the US end, it is felt that its strategic partnership with the India has milked it more than gratifying US strategic intents.

At the regional level in South, India has created more problems for US then becoming a rescuer.  To name a few; Indian undesired role in Afghan affairs and its promotion of terrorism along the Pak-Afghan border by assisting and financing the terrorists has mired US military operation, rather enabling it a quick success.  Moreover, its support to a particular Afghan faction has created a clear divide among the traditionally coherent Afghan society.  Since India exploited that US is at its back, therefore, US got the abhorrence of Afghan people, whereas, presented themselves as the well wisher of Afghan people. Currently U.S is spending over $100 billion yearly in Afghanistan, without any visible gain. So much so that US inability to control undesired Indian involvement in Balochistan, FATA, and other areas of Pakistan through Afghan soil has obliged neutral analysts to point fingers at the future US designs in Pakistan and the region. For the restoration of trust with Pakistan, United States will have to sluice this misperception created because of its support to Indian cause. This would benefit none other than the United States itself.

The very first determination President Barrack Hussain Obama showed upon attaining victory in his Presidential election on November 4, 2008, was to bring stability in the South Asia. He very rightly identified the unresolved nature of Kashmir, as the basic cause of this instability in the regional politics. He was about to nominate the former President Bill Clinton as his special representative to facilitate the resolution of this long awaited issue, once Indian lobby prevailed. Thereafter, he announced his infamous AfPak policy and nominated Richard Holbrook, as his especial representative on the Pak-Afghan affairs. This inclination towards India in the US approach has further dented US image in the eyes of the people of Pakistan and the Kashmir, who still feel that U.S and international community would rescue them from illegal Indian occupation and its atrocities, as promised in the UN resolutions. After knowing the veracity, now US should take steps to even out the grievances of the people of this region as per the UN dictates. Apart from the restoration of trust to a greater extent, this step would positively project US image among the masses in the region.

While reviewing the Pak-US history, one reaches over to the conclusion that either through intended or inadvertent US acts, Pakistan has suffered a lot. Its economy, internal stability and external relationship have deteriorated largely. Now through this phase of the strategic dialogue, both sides have made a renewed pledge of a “shared perspective on regional and global issues”. With respect to Afghanistan, both sides agreed to promote peace and stability in that war torn country, which would certainly bring stability in the region. However, in order to do that, US need to reduce the Indian role in that country, which is the major cause of regional instability and failure of US actions. Apart from brining the stability in Afghanistan, US need to play its much awaited role in the resolution of longstanding Kashmir issue, the real cause of South Asian instability ever since the departure of the colonial masters.

In the joint statement, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Qureshi “reaffirmed their commitment to a wide-ranging, long-term and substantive strategic partnership between the United States and Pakistan”. Lets this vow be the everlasting through restoration of trust between the allies on tangible terms.

Dr Raja Muhammad Khan is a PhD in International Relations and an Associate Professor at National Defence University Islamabad. He is a South Asian analyst and a regular contributor to www.Opinion–Maker.Org

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