- Forget the Clinton-Qureshi talks. Remember the Talbott-Shamshad strategic dialogue in 1998? The declared aim was better bilateral relations but in reality the talks were a cover for US ideas on how Pakistan should maintain its nuclear weapons. The Americans have a long history of saying one thing and meaning something else.
- US wants Pakistan Army to launch North Waziristan war to isolate Pakistan from Afghan Taliban and future US-Taliban contacts could exclude Pakistan
BY SHIREEN M. MAZARI | Saturday, 23 October 2010.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The Pak-US Strategic Dialogue was upgraded to the Ministerial level this year apparently to allow our extremely US-friendly Foreign Minister to ‘lead’ the discussions.
Of course, we have had previous bilateral dialogue processes with the US too. The most memorable for non-achievement being the Strobe Talbott-Shamshad Khan (Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary at the time) talks after the 1998 nuclear tests.
What is common to all these dialogues is that they are more of unilateral demands than a true exchange of views and priorities.
The Talbott-Shamshad [so-called] talks were simply an effort by the US to compel us into accepting their ideas of how to frame our overt nuclear capability in terms of strategic doctrine. That is when they floated all manner of absurd ‘minimum deterrence’ proposals like non-weaponized deterrence – where you keep your delivery systems and warheads separate – but the Pakistanis ignored these and instead put forward their “nuclear restraint” regime concept which they still cling to today, although in effect have moved far beyond that in terms of developing capabilities. Which is what it should be since India refused to accept our idea of a zero-missile regime for South Asia – and that was one of the integral proposals of Pakistan’s Nuclear Restraint Doctrine. At least on some counts we have kept our national interests focused and unhampered by extraneous compulsions.
Coming back to the present “Strategic Dialogue”, it is once again more of a US monologue of demands which we keep fulfilling, while our whispered requests continue to be ignored and yet we continue down the path of kowtowing before the Americans.
Frankly, at this point in time, it would have made far more sense to postpone participation in the so-called third round of this bilateral farce and assess what we have achieved from the two earlier rounds. Then we would have been in a better position to see if we needed this Dialogue at all – and if we did then should we not have first formulated our requirements or demands from the US to be put on the table. After all, it needs to be recognized outright that presently the US cannot do without Pakistan’s support for its misguided war in Afghanistan. There is simply no debate on this ground reality. But those who speak on Pakistan’s behalf are not prepared to digest this reality and, therefore, are unwilling or unable to put our case forward forcefully.
WHY THIRD-ROUND SHOULD
HAVE BEEN POSTPONED?
So, why the suggestion that the Dialogue should have been postponed?
- First, because the US has failed to fulfill earlier commitments made to Pakistan. Take just two issues – ROZs and US market access for our textiles. The US has failed to deliver on either of these issues and it does not seem likely that this will happen in the present Dialogue either.
- Second, because the US has also failed to pay up the financial dues of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), while Pakistan has already delivered on the services for which the payment is to be made.
- Third, on energy security, the US is not only unwilling to allow us the Iran-Pakistan-India gas project, it has declared its intent of opposing the Pakistan-China civil nuclear deals, despite the fact that these are subject to IAEA safeguards. And yet the US continues to do nuclear deals with India in contravention of its NPT commitments. So, how can the US be Pakistan’s “ally”?
- Fourth, the hostile US posturing towards Pakistan and the military actions targeting Pakistani civilians through drones and NATO gunship helicopters are turning the US into more of a hostile power than an ally.
- Fifth, there is a need for Pakistan to redefine its relationship with the US before it continues to obey US diktat willy-nilly.
Beyond this, for Pakistan the Dialogue should only be pursued if the US is prepared to accept the following demands from our side, which are critical for our long-term security and stability. After all, at this point in time we have a small window of opportunity to press the US since it does need Pakistan and its military. What are the crucial issues on which we want to see the US act positively and which should be our agenda for the Dialogue?
WHAT PAKISTAN NEEDS?
- First, it needs to write off Pakistan’s debt and ensure that this happens with its allies and the international financial institutions. The US has done this before when it has seen other states like Egypt as its strategic partners. Surely, the role being played by Pakistan today is as strategic as any for the US in its so-called war on terror in Afghanistan.
- Second, if the Dialogue is to be truly “strategic”, it cannot ignore the nuclear factor. So we need to demand from the US that it give the same treatment to our nuclear status that it is bestowing on India. In this context, the issue of non-proliferation is a non-starter, as India’s documented record on the issue is no better than ours or the US’s itself in connection with Israel.
- Third, the US needs to immediately fulfill its past commitments on ROZs and market access for our textiles.
- Fourth, Pakistan must be welcomed in any talks to resolve the Afghan conflict. Now that the US has conceded that Iran has a role to play in Afghanistan, it should wake up to the reality – however distasteful it may be to it and its ally India – that Pakistan has a role to play also in the future of Afghanistan.
- Fifth, the return of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui should not simply be a postscript in the Dialogue, but some action sought immediately.
Unless the US is prepared to concede ground to Pakistan on these issues, what is the point of this so-called “Strategic Dialogue”? All it does is to give a chance for many Pakistani state functionaries to get a free trip to Washington and to allow the US to dictate policies to us and chide us for disobeying them.
An additional fear this time around is that the US may force a commitment from the Pakistani military to commence a full-scale operation in North Waziristan Agency and that this operation would commence soon after the Chief of Army Staff returns from the Dialogue. This would be disastrous for Pakistan – not only in terms of its own security and stability, but also in terms of its future interests in Afghanistan. What the US is desperately wanting is to isolate the Afghan Taliban from any Pakistani links so that they can dialogue with them and not only isolate Pakistan but also subject it to more militancy and terrorism – for that is what will happen, if there is a full-blown operation in NWA. This is not in Pakistan’s interest at all, but given our past track record, we succumb to strange and damaging commitments when in Washington. So far, the Strategic Dialogue has been more of a strategic submission and the Pakistani nation has nothing left to submit anymore.
This op-ed is extracted from a slightly longer column originally published by The Nation under a different title. Reach Dr. Maazari at
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