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Perhaps it is appropriate that these lines are being written on April Fool’s Day. What lends this credence is the exchange of letters between US President Joe Biden and Pakistan’s Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif.

Before we get to the content and tone of this exchange, it would be well to remember that things have been frosty in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad for more than two decades.

This is because, after 9/11, the US used muscle bound pressure on Pakistan to align with Washington’s declaration of the ‘War on Terror’ and help its intent to invade Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, in the process to punish the Taliban regime of Mulla Omar for hosting bin Laden and refusing to hand him over to the US. Pakistan’s help and support for the Afghan war was critical since the landlocked country could only, for both geographical and geopolitical reasons, be accessed through Pakistan.

Thus Pakistan, then ruled by military dictator Pervez Musharraf, provided an air and land corridor for the US to invade Afghanistan and subsequently keep its troops in that country supplied.

In return, Pakistan was provided money for ‘services rendered’. However, neither Washington’s heavy pressure nor its money could dissuade the Pakistani military under Musharraf from playing a double game, supporting at one and the same time the US’s campaign (targeting exclusively al Qaeda) and the Taliban’s resistance, the latter through the provision of safe havens inside Pakistan and logistical and other support.

This double game helped the Afghan Taliban maintain their guerrilla resistance to the US occupation for 20 years and finally paved the way for their victory and the ignominious retreat of the US from Afghanistan. In between, US intelligence surmised that Osama bin Laden, whom they had been unable to capture in the early days of the invasion in the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan, was holed up in a compound in Abbottabad, a stone’s throw from the military’s Kakul Academy.

When then President Barack Obama decided to approve a US Navy Seals operation in May 2011 inside Pakistan to capture or take out bin Laden, the outcome of the raid was that bin Laden was killed while offering armed resistance, with his face blown off, making it difficult to identify him.

However, the Seals confirmed his identity from the length of the body and his ears. The body was then taken away in the Seals’ helicopters and dumped far out at sea so to prevent any burial site becoming a bin Laden shrine to his followers (cf. Mumtaz Qadri). Obviously, the discovery of bin Laden in near proximity to Pakistan’s ‘West Point’ did not endear the country to Washington.

In fact there were reams of speculation and suspicion about the role of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services in hiding bin Laden inside Pakistan for 10 years. Although the US celebrated its ‘revenge’ on bin Laden for 9/11, this was one of the few successes it could boast of in this war.

The rest, including the Ashraf Ghani regime and the much vaunted Afghan National Army (ANA) created, trained and armed by the US, disappeared like a puff of dust before the triumphal entry of the Taliban into Kabul and the chaotic departure of the US, leaving many of its collaborators behind to face the tender mercies of the Taliban.

Washington obviously harboured a great deal of resentment and anger at Pakistan for its ‘betrayal’ in Afghanistan. I had predicted in a write- up in these columns after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 2021 that our relationship with the US would henceforth be extremely rocky, since empires have long memories and they do not forgive or forget. I predicted then that the US did not have to do more than use its hold over the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to make life difficult for Pakistan.

That, at least, has come to pass and is continuing even as we speak. Washington, in the aftermath of its humiliation in Afghanistan, decided to at the very least keep Pakistan at arm’s length from here on.

This explains why President Biden never contacted Imran Khan while he was PM, never congratulated Shehbaz Sharif when he became PM in 2022, and even in this letter now received, has made no mention of congratulations to Shehbaz Sharif for being elected PM again (albeit in a controversial polling exercise). Shehbaz too has chosen to reply in diplomatese, focusing on harmless, peripheral areas of mutual cooperation while the herd of elephants in the room are blithely ignored.

The question then arises, why this ‘frosty’ exchange now?

The main factor is Washington’s continuing concern about a terrorist threat to it and its allies emanating from Taliban ruled Afghanistan. The second is the Pentagon’s desire, reiterated after COAS General Asim Munir’s visit to the US, to maintain its strategic relationship with the Pakistani military with the latter the best bet for policing the region in the interests of the US and the west. The third reason is the growing concern in Washington that too much distance from Islamabad could thrust Pakistan even further into China’s embrace.

So, despite the victory in the Cold War ending in the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism and the inescapable necessity for remaining socialist countries such as Vietnam, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Cuba to tack with the prevailing wind and make compromises with capitalism for the sake of survival, the Pentagon still envisages a continuation of its long-standing ‘independent’ relationship with Pakistan’s GHQ (independent of whoever is in power in Washington or Islamabad).

Of course even the Pentagon cannot prevail in the halls of power in Washington to reopen the free lunch box Pakistan has been used to since the early 1950s.

Therefore while a minimal relationship will remain between the US and Pakistani militaries, it is unlikely to reap for the latter the goodies it is used to receiving in the past.

To sum up, what remains of the US-Pakistan relationship now is a minimum engagement (with an eye on security contingencies) for the foreseeable future, minimum support through the IMF and other international financial institutions to prevent an economic meltdown (something that promises to make the debt trap we are clearly in arguably worse), peripheral engagement in do-goodie areas that are hardly strategic (e.g. health, education, etc.), and straining to keep Pakistan as far away as possible from the Chinese embrace. Not a very tasty menu of maybes.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] ,


Comments are closed.

Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 06:37am
Only in Pakistan do you sèe idiots saying out loud, their country plays double game.
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KU Apr 02, 2024 12:00pm
Good read, should give some people idea of how truth tastes. Jesters forget that ‘’US comes first’ and our people/economy later. The Osama episode had dollars at stake, obviously not meant for aid.
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KU Apr 02, 2024 12:39pm
@Az_Iz, only in Pakistan do you don't see idiots saying out loud the truth, and the US said ''our country plays double game''. Guess, stopping/catching PIA pilots without licences was also idiotic.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 04:55pm
@KU,countries occupy other's lands,against international law.They pat themselves as democracies.Journalists in those countries don't call their country a hypocrisy,although that is the truth.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 05:04pm
@KU,India took the Kashmir issue to UN,ready to honor the resolution in letter & spirit.As the resolution called for plebiscite,it backtracked.Not many Indian journalists say,it plays a double game.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 05:28pm
@KU,India took the Kashmir issue to UN,then backtracked on Plebiscite.How many journalists in India portray India as being a dishonest country.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 05:55pm
@KU,journalists in many countries including Pakistan raise issues that they perceive are wrong or not true.But hardly anyone will say,their country plays double games,or it is a hypocrite.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 06:16pm
@KU,many countries,not just one,use and dump others.Some may say,they have permanent interests,not permanent friends.But they will not say out loud, their country uses & dumps others,even if true.
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KU Apr 02, 2024 07:17pm
@Az_Iz, your arguments only prove that our country has suffered from lies for 75 years while the corrupt thrived behind these lies, NROs or In National Interest, each pushed us into bankrupt country.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 08:42pm
@KU,the argument is,Pakistan is not the only country,which suffers due to lies.It happens everywhere.Journalists expose lies,which is good.But don't brazenly characterize their country as deceitful.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 08:47pm
@KU,exposing lies is good.Lying happens in every country.No exception.But brazenly calling their own country deceitful or plays double games is idiotic.Does not happen everywhere like in Pakistan.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 08:52pm
@KU, one time, when Rajiv Gandhi was questioned about politicans lying and deceiving,he said it happens in USA also.That is called being idiotic,even though it was true.
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Az_Iz Apr 02, 2024 09:07pm
@KU,Pakistanis are not more deceitful than others,nor extraordinarily more honest.Stop shouting from the rooftops how the country plays double games.
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KU Apr 03, 2024 10:51am
@Az_Iz, During the PDM minister's meeting on flood victims aid with an institution, our data emerged as a lie and was admitted in the light of truth. Aid was delayed, eventually supervised by agency.
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KU Apr 03, 2024 11:02am
@Az_Iz, World Bank debarred 2 Pakistani consulting companies for lying/fraud in Sindh Community Resilience Project, guess this news should have been hidden. What say about rooftops and our image now?
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KU Apr 03, 2024 12:11pm
Should we mention the lie/fraud by our corrupt horde, who use GB and AJK special tax/duty free status to import items and sell it all over the country? Truth is becoming of a nation, lies unbecoming.
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Az_Iz Apr 03, 2024 05:07pm
@KU,Pakistanis are neither more deceitful or honest, than others. But they like to shout from the rooftops,more than others.
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