Time For Pakistan To Get Tough With The US
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Or so a wise man once said. Indeed, the fictional Forrest Gump could just as easily have been talking about the present state of the Pak-US bilateral relations, after all, ties between the two sides are at an all time low following President Donald Trump’s now infamous tweet in which he accused this country of harbouring terrorists. But be that as it may, it remains imperative for the government to focus on the domestic turmoil that has gripped Pakistan in the absence of strong and capable leadership.
Our political institutions have plunged into a crisis. And it appears that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is a mere pawn in the hands of former disqualified Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who still holds the real power in his party. Yet the latter seems not to have come to terms with the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify him. How else can we explain the sight of a man who has thrice held the premiership by wooing the thirty-two-year old Saudi Crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman in his favour? Or the fact that upon his return to Pakistan, Nawaz was almost roaring against the Army as well as the superior judiciary? This brings us to the following question: who, in reality, is currently exercising power in Pakistan? It seems that we will have to wait until after this year’s General Elections to find out.
Trump has threatened Iran and North Korea several times and much more ferociously than he has ever berated this country, Pakistan. Indeed, he has even gone as far as warning Pyongyang that it risks being destroyed by Washington. Yet, instead of becoming intimidated, Kim Jong Un casually dismissed the US President’s remarks. Perhaps we should follow this example, but before we can even consider such a thing, we should have, at the very least, capable leadership in place, meaning one that does not time and again rely upon or seek favours from the Saudi royal family. However, at present this appears to be easier said than done, given how the political setup at this time is similar to a circus.
But how can Pakistan confront the US when it remains shackled in debt and the current account is running in deficit. Undoubtedly, Trump’s poor public diplomacy has negatively impacted the American objective of countering terrorism. Yet, before we can look the US directly in the eye, we must learn to first stand on our own feet. On one hand we are a nuclear power, but on the other, the massive debt trap has greatly compromised our sovereignty. North Korea is mired in poverty but it does not take a begging bowl to international institutions. The same may be said of Iran – even when it had crippling sanctions and regimes imposed upon it, it never sought financial assistance in the form of World Bank or IMF loans.
Thus, if we in Pakistan truly want to adopt a no-nonsense approach to our dealings with Washington, then we must seriously consider giving up our dependency on any sort of financial assistance or aid from the US. Moreover, keeping in mind the present scenario we should be prepared to say goodbye to our non-major NATO ally status and all the fringe benefits that this has brought with it. As a result, we will have no other option but to strive towards economic self-reliance. Unfortunately, we are neither in a position to resolve the ongoing political crisis nor achieve sustainable economic growth rate.
As far as the Trump’s threats to suspend all military assistance to this country are concerned, it will not in the long-term prove feasible for the US to dismantle the bilateral relationship. In my view, for the last 16 years, American military efforts in landlocked Afghanistan have been dependent upon transit routes through Pakistani territory as well as airspace. Moreover, seeking alternative arrangements at this juncture would not be feasible for the US. Supply lines through the Central Asian states to the north is, admittedly, possible in theory. But given that it would be dependent on Russian goodwill, it looks as if Washington is stuck with Islamabad.
Nevertheless, Pakistan should view the current crisis through the prism of opportunity and look ahead towards the path of prosperity which will only be traversable once we have capable leaders at the helm of affairs. As things stand right now, those at the top prefer to spend precious resources on mega projects instead of essential facilities, such as education and healthcare. Thus, we witness time and again resources squandered on the buildings of wedding halls and new housing societies, thereby leading to a property boom and related price hikes.
The former PM Nawaz still can’t seem to see beyond his ousting from power, which involves him routinely vowing to expose the conspiracy that is being hatched against him. If this country holds nothing but painful memories of him, he could always ponder over bringing back the looted wealth that he has stashed abroad. After all, he abused his position while in power to accrue vast assets, including expensive overseas properties.
The entire Sharif clan has been in power in one way or another for over thirty years. Indeed, only Maharaja Ranjit Singh could boast of a comparable tenure in Punjab. The Sharifs have also demonstrated once more that they are least concerned when it comes to the problems facing ordinary citizens, such as the daily struggle for survival.
Sadly, Pakistan will continue to rot in this way until it finds itself a true visionary leader. The US was fortunate enough to have Abraham Lincoln when the country was going through the tumultuous period of civil war between the north and the south. Similarly, John F Kennedy displayed immense resolve during the Cuban missile crisis. If we go further back in time, we find that it was due to the stewardship of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and France’s Charles de Gaulle that the allies ultimately emerged victorious against Nazi Germany. Meanwhile in Pakistan, the entire ruling party complains that civilian governments are forever being toppled by the army. That was the case in Turkey until Recep Tayyip Erdogan assumed presidency. Since then, he successfully set the country firmly on the path of prosperity by way of undertaking progressive economic policies that eventually restored civilian supremacy. The lesson to be learned here is a simple one: put one’s own house in order first.
An earlier version of this article appeared in The Daily Times. Republished here with permission.
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