The Nato supply lines have been reopened but the fundamentals of US-Pakistan relations have not changed. That may not stop the two sides from trying to make it work, though. In fact, knowing that there are major divergences, but also that working together is important, there is reason for both to apply themselves to the task of keeping this transactional relationship afloat.
In Pakistan, for that to happen, we must first define this relationship and identify US objectives.
Easier said. We still haven’t figured out whether the US is a friend and ally, a frenemy, or an enemy. For the Right it is an enemy; for the Left-Libs it is a friend.
Unfortunately, these positions analyse US policies through ideological prisms. They also indicate the internal fissures in Pakistan and are a poor tool for analysis that requires the appreciation of a state’s policies in terms of multiple factors, not just one — or ideological.
Take an example from the Left-Lib position: the US is trying to fight extremism that also threatens Pakistan, has helped Pakistan and Pakistani military with funds and must, therefore, be seen as a friend. This linear argument — incidentally derived from the US narrative — presents the US as a state that is out to create much good in the world by eradicating the bad guys.
But the US is not altruistic. It is a power that wants to secure the world system it created post-World War II against any challenges to the system as well as to its role as a world leader. It will do that through chaos or through aid, whichever suits the purpose at whichever moment. Very often, it would do both.
So, it will give funds to Pakistan but also put in place a spy network. It will help in the energy and other sectors but also pursue policies that could ramp up violence and get more Pakistanis killed. The objective is to secure America, whatever it takes. The cost for Pakistan — or for any other country — doesn’t matter. It would matter only if it also increased the cost for the US. No grudging this because this is how states operate.
There are two theories about US intentions vis-a-vis Pakistan. One posits that actions leading to instability in Pakistan are not in the interest of Washington. The other argues that a strong, unified Pakistan is not in the US interest.
The proponents of the first question the rationality of a course of action which, as they argue, could unleash many unintended consequences. The second school argues that because Pakistan’s strategic interests in the region conflict with the US’ and also with India’s, and because the US is also planning a future conflict with China, which cannot be a direct one, the stability-instability paradox necessitates proxy wars and the battleground will be Af-Pak and, increasingly, Pakistan itself.
From emerging evidence, the second school cannot be outright discounted. The rational choice approach of the first school can also be challenged by asking the proponents to define the optimal choice(s) of the US in the region and in relation to Pakistan. It is not enough to say that the US is playing the game for peace and stability and that is the optimal choice because very often the endgame in and of itself does not determine the course of action. In other words, if state X is playing for peace, it is neither necessary nor inevitable that it would use approaches that are also peaceful. Neither can peace itself define peace. Would the US consider a strong, stable Pakistan as a necessary and sufficient condition for peace? What if that is not the case, especially if a strong Pakistan were not aligned with its interests in the region?
This would then require playing a more complex game where, while outcomes become more unpredictable, their unpredictability is seen to outweigh the high stakes involved and the dividends to be reaped. Let’s put it in another way: what would be the ideal scenario for the US — a strong, stable Pakistan with nuclear weapons or a Pakistan sans nuclear weapons and subsumed in the larger US scheme for the region?
Understanding the game would also require defining US interests. What are they? If it’s only about peace in Afghanistan, then the US should be pursuing the talks track with the Taliban more seriously than has been the case so far. Does the coterie that rules Kabul have any interest in talking to Pakistan or settling the issues with the Taliban? So far, it is clear that it is in the interest of the Kabul cabal to consolidate the system that keeps it in power. And that means two things: continued military and economic support by the US and US presence in Afghanistan.
Threat perception is not a fixed notion and depends on unfolding situations. In theory, if at point X, Pakistan feels that in situation Y the level of threat from the US stands at nine on a scale of 1-10, at point A and in situation B it could drop to two. A simple benchmark is the capability-intention framework. States employ it to determine threats and identify counter-measures, not just immediate but also distant, not just possible but also probable. Capability is important because intentions can undergo a change, depending on situations and interests.
Add to it the fact that threat analysis is not an exercise in linearity and we have a situation where, while the US is not a friend, we need to work to ensure that it doesn’t become an enemy either. To this end, we have to devise direct and indirect policies that increase our strategic options in the region. We also have to ensure the writ of the state internally in order to be able to advance the sovereignty argument more effectively. But to do all this we have to go heavy on strategy, not tactics. Can we?
This article was originally published at: The Express Tribune
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.