Published On: Tue, Feb 19th, 2013

What kind of relationship can US offer to Pakistan?

General Lloyd J. Austin

By Boris Volkhonsky

As reported by Pakistani “Dawn” daily, General Lloyd J. Austin, nominee for commander of US Central Command (Centcom), told his confirmation hearing that The United States seeks to boost its relationship with Pakistan, though it is committed to winding up its combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

This statement almost coincided in time but was totally different in content with remarks made by the former US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter. Last Wednesday, he told a briefing in Washington that Washington’s “callousness” over the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a US air strike on a post in November 2011 had strained ties between the two nations.

“The fact that we were unable to say that we were sorry until July (2012) cost our country literally billions of dollars,” Mr. Munter said.

And on Saturday, speaking at the Karachi Literature Festival he launched a scathing attack on his country’s attitude to Pakistan warning that it must drop its “lazy” thinking if ties are to improve.

According to London’s Daily Telegraph, while defining the prevailing attitude towards Pakistan in his country, Mr. Munter said that “In America, the image of Pakistan is: We give them all this money, we support them, we try to help them and what do they do? They deceive us.”

This statement raised a row in diplomatic circles in Pakistan, since former diplomats are usually not supposed to intervene in their former host countries so soon after leaving. To understand the underwater flows beneath the current situation, one must step back in time to the times of Mr. Munter’s tenure as the US ambassador to Pakistan.

His ambassadorship began in October 2010 and was supposed to last no less than three years. By the time of his appointment, the relationship between the US and Pakistan was already strained, to say the least. The constant drone strikes over Pakistani territory which started during George W. Bush’s presidency and accelerated during Barack Obama’s first term, had led to an utmost degree of anti-American sentiment and the rise of all kinds of extremists dissatisfied with the way the Pakistani government handled (or, rather, was unable to handle) this open aggression against their homeland.

It seems like things had never been worse. But in May 2011 the US Navy SEALs undertook a raid on the Pakistani town of Abbotabad without even bothering to notify he Pakistani authorities. As a result of the raid, “terrorist number one” and former CIA protégé Osama bin Laden was allegedly assassinated. The raid was regarded by most Pakistani as just another, most outrageous act of aggression and violation of sovereignty.

Then came November 2011, when a US air strike killed 24 Pakistani servicemen. As a result, Pakistan blocked the southern route of supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan, and the coalition had to rely upon the northern route via Central Asia and Russia, which is much longer and much costlier.

In June 2012, 18 months after his tenure started, ambassador Munter openly voiced his disagreement with the US policy towards Pakistan and submitted his resignation. As one of his colleagues put it, “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people”.

No that Mr. Munter is a private citizen he is definitely free to comment on the relationship. But isn’t there a contradiction between what he said recently and what General Lloyd Austin stated? And if the prevailing attitude in the US towards Pakistan is “we give them money and they deceive us”, does the US really “seek to boost its relationship with the country” as General Austin said?

Indeed, what the US needs Pakistan for is simply a matter of money. Now that President Obama has declared the intention to withdraw all troops from Pakistan by the end of 2014, including the 34,000 in the current year, the need for a short and cheap route of transportation is even greater than it was in 2010 to 2012. Therefore, we should expect that in the coming two years the US will do anything to at least vocally appease and please their Pakistani partners.

So, while the truth is contained in Ambassador Munter’s words, officials will do everything to try to picture it the other way a round.

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

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