Pak-US relations have hit an all-time low with both sides openly blaming one another for it.
US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Olson, accompanied by Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the National Security Council, Dr Peter Lavoy, have been in Pakistan to hold meetings at the Foreign Office and the GHQ at a time Pakistan is furious over the US drone strike on its soil that killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
What that meant for the bilateral relations is plain from the Foreign Office statement that the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz warned the visitors that “any future drone strike in Pakistan will be detrimental to our common desire to strengthen relations.”
Earlier, the Army chief had publicly delivered the same message, saying Pakistan is considering downing US drones violating this country’s sovereignty.
The US had its usual accusation to make that Pakistan is not taking action against the Haqqani network, though it surely understands that this country cannot do something the US with all its military might has failed to do; and that action against the Afghan Taliban will unite them with Pakistani Taliban, creating a security nightmare for this country.
Besides, that will put paid to the leverage that this country has with the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table, which all sides agree is the only way to end the never ending conflict. The US still needs Pakistan to wrap up its war in Afghanistan.
But to be sure, the relationship all through the Cold War years as an ally and later as ‘major non-Nato ally’ during the US’ second Afghan war for which foreign policy circles in Washington would use the neologism ‘Af-Pak’ have all along been a transactional one as opposed to the strategic partnership with India that is growing from strength to strength.
Pakistan of course does not like it, but the reality is that countries have no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests.
Relations are under stress due to changing strategic environment and global power realignments in which the US wants India to play a significant role.
Hence during the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s – whom the US had refused entry visa for more than a decade for his role as chief minister of Gujarat state in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom – recent visit to Washington he was accorded a red carpet welcome, with the administration endorsing his allegations against Pakistan of allowing terrorists to use its soil for acts of violence in India.
Equally if not more important, while both Pakistan and India have applied for membership of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), controlling nuclear trade and access to nuclear technology, Washington has been lobbying hard for its admission, telling Pakistan that India would be willing to cooperate later on its admission into the group, where decisions are made on the basis of consensus.
Given the nature of Pak-India relations, the US of course knows full well that once India gets the NSG membership it will never allow in Pakistan. For now Islamabad can rest assured that China will not allow India to join the group.
This is a moment for the policymaking establishment to take a pause and rethink its own course of action. Relying on the goodwill of one or the other major power or material support of friendly countries in the Middle East with their own agendas to pursue is not the way forward.
There is need to mend fences with other neighbours, forge greater trade and economic ties with countries in the extended neighbourhood, and also to keep the door open to negotiations with India.
Pakistan must also put its own house in order. Democratic institutions ought to be strengthened and extremism eliminated root and branch.
And last but not the least, Islamabad must try and improve its messaging abroad. Pakistan is painted by India as the poster boy of bad behaviour, even though there is enough evidence of India fomenting trouble in Balochistan and funding terrorist groups to create chaos and instability.
Pakistani diasporas holding important positions in their adopted countries can help with the image problem. They need to be engaged to counter negative portrayal by interested outsiders.