US and Pakistan: Strategic Friendship Continues

Dr. Parama Sinha Palit

The US Congress has approved a $ 300 million military aid package for Pakistan in November last year, the biggest military aid package to Pakistan since the events of 9/11. President Bush has thus begun his second term by deciding to dole out ‘arms bonanza’ to Pakistan. The $300 million is a part of the foreign military financing programme (H R 4818 Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2005) totaling more than $4.7 billion, a major chunk of which goes to Israel ($2.2 billion) and Egypt (1.3billion).

The deal includes P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft, anti-Armour guided missiles and Phalanx Close-in Weapons Systems for its warships. Many arms control experts believe that such a sale would jeopardize India’s numerical superiority over Pakistani Air Force. The new administration appears to be continuing with its earlier policy of ‘engaging’ Pakistan, which is considered an important ally in the fight against ‘global terrorism’ led by the United States. The proposed deal is in addition to the MNNA (Major Non-NATO Ally) status granted to Pakistan earlier this year as a reward for its role in the war against terrorism. Despite the 9/11 Commission Report indicting Pakistan for its links with the Al Qaeda, the Commission itself has requested the Bush administration to step up assistance to the country, further advancing US’ ambivalent policy towards Pakistan.

The arms bonanza is subsequent to the recent visit by Richard Armitage to Pakistan in November 2004. The outgoing Deputy Secretary of State reaffirmed Washington’s commitment for building ‘strong ties’ with Pakistan particularly in the areas of economic cooperation, security, and defence. However, his scheduled visit to New Delhi was called off signaling, yet again, the high value attached to Pakistan, the ‘frontline state’ in their ‘global war against terrorism’. The US stand towards Pakistan does not seem to have changed at all, though it certainly looked like doing so after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Pentagon. A striking development in the present scenario is the helplessness of the US in taming Pakistan, even if it so desires, which exposes the limitations of US foreign policy, which not only requires to appease Pakistan to make it war against terror effective but also needs to check the growth of fundamentalist elements within Pakistan.

Ever since Pakistan has joined the United States in containing terrorism, it has transformed from a ‘pariah state’ to a strategic partner. In fact, the recent statement by President Musharraf that Pakistan is "not encouraged" by the signals coming from India over their joint pledge to try solving the dispute over Kashmir, vindicated Islamabad’s rigid stand on the issue. It is quite evident that Musharraf is well aware of their position vis-a- vis India in the region and is once again fanning the Kashmir issue for his survival.

The Cold War dynamics are at play once again and Pakistan has grabbed the opportunity to emerge as the ‘stalwart ally’ of the US. The Washington-Islamabad relationship has much more than meets the eye. Many argue that Pakistan is a short-time ally while India is a long term ‘partner’ of the United States. Reality, however, suggests a different story. While there is a tendency historically to conceptually connect India and Pakistan and in turn their equation with the United States, India needs to do away with this formulation. Instead, New Delhi needs to realize the fact that Washington’s ‘engagement’ of Pakistan is here to stay. But there is also a strong likelihood of Washington ‘engaging’ India because of the latter’s nuclear capabilities and commendable economic progress. India should take full advantage of this. It can ‘engage’ Washington by baiting its burgeoning economy. Simultaneously, it can go the whole hog against Pakistan, diplomatically and otherwise.

With the announcement of the next Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, as the replacement for Colin Powell, there is widespread speculation that US-India relations will improve. As early as September 2000, Rice spoke of India as an emerging knowledge economy that has a real place in the new international economy. Further, in an article in the Foreign Affairs, 2000, she had displayed apprehension over China’s emergence as a great power in the region with unresolved vital interests. Rice’s fear was that a powerful China would resent United States’ role in the Asia-pacific. It seems that China and India cannot be separated in US thinking. It is perceived in certain US policy circles that India in the future will ‘create a countervailing force to China’. Containing China in the region can probably see both US-India strengthening their mutual ties in the second term of Bush presidential tenure in the next four years.

Author Note
Parama Sinha Palit is a Researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi