Making Amends with the US: What Should Pakistan’s New Foreign Policy Be?

The White House was not happy with Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court in late July on corruption charges. During the past four years, Sharif made efforts to strengthen ties with the neighboring countries, including India and Afghanistan. While his intention to help Afghanistan make a transition to normalcy as the U.S. withdraws troops might be magnanimous, the White House claims that he had “failed to take significant action” to prevent Taliban’s aggression towards the Afghan and American forces in Afghanistan.

During the Obama Administration, Pakistan and the U.S. developed an infamous relationship with each other, forcing Pakistan to bear a huge cost for the ‘war on terror’. The fractured relationship has remained unchanged, even under the new U.S. administration. In fact, earlier this year, Congressman Ted Poe of Texas reintroduced a bill that designated Pakistan a state that sponsors terrorism for failing to extinguish terrorist sanctuaries from its soil.

To gain deeper insight into this topic, as well as discuss the claims made by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor, Raymond Davis, in his new book “The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis”, I sat down with Dr. Vali Nasr, the Dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former senior advisor to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Davis claims that the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Shuja Pasha helped him acquit from a court case. Why was that in ISI’s interest?

Raymond Davis was acquitted by paying blood money to the victims’ families. It is not a surprise that the ISI pressured the families to accept the blood money.

ISI did have incentive to withhold Davis so that it could use some leverage over the CIA. However, ISI had chosen to sign up to work with the CIA to fight against terrorists in Pakistan. If Pakistan had lost the trust of the CIA by withholding Davis in the country, it would have hurt its interests and public image even more.

You have mentioned that Richard Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton faced difficulties to voice their opinions on policy concerning Pakistan, whereas the U.S. intelligence agencies had a final say on it. Did that influence how U.S. conducted its relations with Pakistan?  

At that time, the Obama administration considered Al-Qaeda to be the biggest threat to the U.S. Obama also feared that an attack from Pakistan was possible, especially after a man from Pakistani origin tried to blast a bomb in New York.

Now that fighting against militants and terrorist groups was the top priority of Obama administration, the CIA was given a free hand to do whatever possible to achieve that. Holbrooke and Clinton, on the other hand, advocated for diplomatic relationship with Pakistan, built on mutual trust and alignment of common goals.

It is therefore not shocking that the counterparts of ISI Chief Pasha and Chief of Army Staff Kayani were not Holbrooke or Clinton. They were David Patraeus, CIA Director and Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that a lot of people in the Congress are not happy with Pakistan’s effort to fight against terrorists, what is Trump’s next move going to be?

Trump does not want to send troops to Pakistan. Like Obama, he’s going to push Pakistan to take a strong action against the Taliban.

Recently, the U.S. foreign policy has shifted from South Asia to Middle East and North Africa in order to deal with the growing levels of insecurity in Sudan, Syria and Qatar. This shift is both good and bad for Pakistan.

It is good for Pakistan since moving limelight away from it can produce stability in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, but also bad for the country because the amount of military aid that it gets from the U.S. might drop in number.

What should Pakistan do to bring stability and prosperity to the country?

The larger issue is where does Pakistan want to go? Since 1947, Pakistan has had one long-standing goal: compete against India. Even after learning from various unsuccessful wars, Pakistan has not been able to come up with a decisive foreign policy. Does it want to become a main economic force? Does it want to become an important technology player in the world? We are not quite sure yet.

Pakistan has a lot of potential but it doesn’t speak to its people. In the short-run, Pakistan should diffuse its goal of competing against India and start thinking seriously about the economic and social progress that its citizens want.

What do you think about the Trump administration’s decision to ban immigrants from Muslim-majority countries?

It is funny that Trump didn’t apply the Muslim ban to countries with whom he conducts business or has good relations such as Saudi Arabia. The Muslim ban was in line with his larger goal to expel immigrants, such as Mexicans, from the U.S., who, according to Trump, present a threat to the U.S. economy.

In the short run, the Muslim ban reinforces Trump’s policies around racism and anti-pluralism. In the long-run, Trump wants to ensure white supremacy in the U.S. Whether he is right or wrong, only time will tell.

The interview was original published in Pakistan’s Daily Times on July 30th, 2017. 

Featured photo: Vali Nasr/Alchetron

Faraz Ahmed
Faraz Ahmed is the Executive Editor at the Chicago Policy Review. He is interested in technologies that can be used to improve the quality of lives of the people. He holds an undergraduate degree from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. In his free time, he likes to run and bike on the Lake Shore Drive, or read Middle Eastern contemporary fiction.

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