Does the U.S. Perceive Pakistan as a Threat?

IRSHAD SALIM: Some comments shared with me on Pak-US relations – a HOT topic in Pakistan these days amid ‘Lettergate’:

Sarwar, a political activist: “Simple. U.S. values us only when needed. Right now they don’t need us… even if our relationship with Russia is growing …it doesn’t bother U.S.”

Amb. G R Baluch, columnist, member Back2School Forum: “Not at all, we are a greatest threat to ourselves. Kaptaan missed an historical opportunity to establish his democratic credentials by not going through the motion of No confidence. Even if he had lost it… it would have strengthened democracy, and would have raised his stature as a democrat leader. Also, the country could have been spared of ensuing political chaos and economic meltdown.”

Aziz Ahmed, a political analyst in Islamabad: “The planned move into Pakistan by the U.S. is not because of any threat perception (although we have a large nuclear arsenal) but because of geopolitical reasons. Pakistan is being looked at as a bulwark against the US and Western plans to counter what they perceive as the Chinese threat on one side, and the Russian threat on the other side. They have already neutralized Nepal, and are currently doing the same with Sri Lanka. Imran Khan’s Pakistan is their most potent and difficult operation in this regard, as then there is the possibility of Pakistan mobilizing Saudi Arabia, UAE and other GCC countries (we can already see signs of it) and later on Iran. The Sharifs and the Zardaris are sold out elements and have fallen into line. The Establishment is playing a fine balancing act. Our life-long existential enemy India is already the US’s strategic partner and been given the status of the policeman of the region.”

Mushtaque Siddiqui, Editor Islamabad-based Urdu daily ALAKHBAR, and former media advisor US embassy: “Not for the US but for its regional interests, it’s allies, and future plans. Blames Pakistan for its defeat in Afghanistan. A serious threat for its regional ally India. After 5, 10 or 20 years from now, when the US moves in to finish its stranglehold on China, it feels that three countries may pose problems for its dream achievement: nuclear Russia, nuclear Pakistan and (nuclear?) Iran. It wanted to stay in Afghanistan to remain close to … Actually inside … future war theater but even after 20 years of trying, it could not achieve its goal and had to leave. It blames Pakistan for its shameful defeat. Now we see that the policy makers, politicians, the army, and part of the intelligentsia in Pakistan are confused — divided.” (Siddiqui is a member of Islamabad-based Back2School Forum)

An officer & a gentleman, member Back2School Forum: “Pakistan is not a threat per say, but U.S. will like to have a Pakistan which complies with its view of the world and in the emerging global realignment – should stay in US camp. There are few caveats to that: 1) The biggest elephant in the room is India, U.S. is bending over to bring India on board as a hedge against China – this leaves out Pakistan. 2) Indian alignment with the U.S. and it’s traditional relationship with Russia, denies Pakistan technology sources from US, Russia and Europe. This forces Pakistan into Chinese Camp, which US doesn’t want. 3) There are contradictions within U.S. policy; they want us in, but don’t want to give us anything and want Pakistan to oblige with Indian view on important issues. 4) Current demonization of the U.S. is more political for domestic audience than substantive.

A Gulf Analyst, member Back2School Forum: “I don’t think Pakistan is a threat. I think the relationship may not be at its best. This is due to several factors, mainly both sides have different avenues to reach a cordial set up. I think the USA should focus more on economic rather than military cooperation only.”

A former ambassador and defense & security expert, member of Back2School Forum: “In an implicit way yes, primarily on three counts. 1) Pakistan’s relations with China and US policy to contain China. @) Nuclear capability. 3) Islamic Fundamentalism and to a lesser degree now Terrorism.
Lastly, they (USA) have chosen India as their partner in the region so they cannot be friendly to us. The fact is that strategic interests of U.S. and Pakistan do not coincide. However Pakistan is an important player hence cannot be ignored, so they have to engage with us.”

Geographical importance of Pakistan in the region tops the wish list of most powers, players and wannabes – past, present and future: my take (Irshad Salim)

Farheen Chaudhry, an established screenwriter who represented Pakistan as head delegate on SAARC’s writers, literary, cultural and Sufi conferences for peace numerous times: “We are not a direct threat to any one, but Pakistan’s strategic location is important for all powers.”

Dr. Syed Ali, Asia-Pacific based US-China expert and author of several books on the subject: “US-Pak security relations have historically been schizophrenic. The USA sought Pak (and Indian) help in using a British Imperial General Staff blueprint for building a regional anti-Communist bulwark against the USSR and the PRC. Pakistan joined the Baghdad Pact, CENTO and SEATO, but it sought external balancing against India. In 1962, while Pak initiated border talks with China, India, with US diplomatic and military support, went to war with China. Despite much US pressure, Pak refused to support India against China. Under President Nixon, the USA totally changed direction, seeking Pak help in secretly building diplomatic bridges to Beijing. When the USSR invaded Afghanistan, the USA, several NATO allies, China and Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc., pumped monies and arms to build up Mujahideen forces against the Soviets and Afghan troops. After Soviet withdrawal, Pak became a marginal actor and in Sept’1990, the USA imposed sanctions on Pak for its nuclear program. As the Khan-network became known, the USA, with proliferation worries, targeted Pak with much coercive strategy. President Clinton invited PM Nawaz Sharif to D.C. when fears of the Kargil crisis escalating across the nuclear threshold, spending 4th July acting as the intermediary between Sharif and Vajpayee on the phone, to secure a ceasefire. After 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks on the USA, Gen. Colin Powell, speaking for President Bush, threatened to remove Pak nuclear arms unless Gen. Musharraf cooperated with logistical support for US forces in Afghanistan and access to at least two PAF airbases. These tensions, US partnership with India against China, Pak’s very close ties to China, CPEC, especially China’s development of Gwadar Port, and Afghanistan-related developments place the USA and China in opposing camps. That the USA maintains the capability to conduct surgical strikes was proved by SEAL Team-6’s raid on Abbottabad in 2011. The USA does not fear Pakistan, but is deeply anxious about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal which, perceptually, lends Pakistan an aura of deterrence vis-a-vis both US pressure and Indian military action. Internal security issues threatening stability – and hence nuclear-weapons safety – deepen US anxiety. Historically, the USA has relied on the Pak military as its partners in Pak. It sees this relationship as crucial to maintaining some modest leverage in this sensitive land. This complex combination of factors shapes US perspectives vis-a-vis Pakistan.”

Nusrat I. Jamshed, a former bureaucrat with the Trade & Commerce Ministry, member Back2School Forum: “Threat is what one can do or is capable of doing. But when threat is seen in light of strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, that’s when its real meaning is enhanced. It must be seen to devise a strategy and not as a way to failure. Potent and impotent threats come alive on above principles.”