Pakistan can’t be forced to compromise on national interests: US historian

WASHINGTON: Pakistan cannot be bludgeoned into taking steps it believes dangerous to its security, even if it means losing the US aid, argues a new book on Pakistan-US relations.

The book — The Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States — by Robert Hathaway, a prominent US scholar of South Asian affairs, traces the history of bilateral relations from the early 1950s to the Trump era, concluding that both nations benefited from this relationship.

“There is little in the historical record to support the contention that Pakistan can be bludgeoned into taking steps it believes dangerous to its security. To the contrary, repeated US attempts to condition its aid to Pakistani behaviour failed to induce the better behaviour Washington had hoped for,” Mr Hathaway writes.

He demonstrates how efforts to coerce Pakistan merely reinforced Islamabad’s belief that its “putative friend sought only to advance a US agenda at odds with Pakistan’s security”.

The book argues that Pakistan has always viewed the benefits that flow from American favour as “prizes worth working to acquire, but not at any price”.

Washington’s inability to recognise this reality, “repeatedly led US decision-makers to overestimate the leverage their power gave them,” the author warns.

Rejecting the argument that Pakistan has been a passive victim or target of American initiatives, Mr Hathaway argues that Islamabad has been “a full partner in a diplomatic two-step” that has reflected Pakistan’s as well as American policy goals. “Generally, Pakistan played its hand well to blunt the force of American power,” he adds.

The book shows how in dealing with the Americans over the decades, Pakistan has held three hugely valuable assets: it occupied strategic geography, possessed considerable strength in its own right and was able to capitalise on the needs of the stronger to further its own ends.

Trump and Pakistan

While reviewing US-Pakistan relations under the Trump administration, the book shows US President Donald Trump’s faith in the utility of American strategy that has impacted US-Pakistan ties.

The book includes several quotes from Mr Trump’s statements on Pakistan — from 2012 to 2017 — and leads the readers to his Aug 21 speech in which he unveiled a new American strategy for Afghanistan.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately,” Mr Trump declared in that speech.

The author says that this speech was unsettling for Pakistanis who felt that the US intended to change its approach toward Pakistan.

The author says that while the statement was specific to Afghanistan, Pakistanis feared that the president’s words could apply to their own country as well.

Mr Hathaway notes that soon after the unveiling of the new Afghan policy, US Vice President Mike Pence wrote a piece in USA Today, declaring that the US has put Pakistan “on notice”.

The author shows how Pakistanis found two other aspects of the new Trump policy especially alarming. One was the absence of any serious discussion of a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan. “Other than a token reference to a political settlement, Mr Trump was virtually silent on what appeared to Pakistanis the only way for Afghanistan to move beyond perpetual turmoil,” he notes.

“Even worse from Pakistan’s perspective, Mr Trump spoke of further developing the US-India ‘strategic partnership’,” he adds, noting that one component of this was for India to assume a larger role in Afghanistan, especially in the areas of economic assistance and development.

Mr Hathaway points out that “keeping Indian influence in Afghanistan to a bare minimum had been one of the touchstones of Pakistani strategy since signing up with the Americans in the days after 9/11” and Mr Trump’s new policy, it appeared, “could not have struck Pakistan’s vital interests more directly”.

He notes how Islamabad lost no time in pushing back, reminding Americans that they “should not make Pakistan a scapegoat for their failure in Afghanistan”.

Commenting on the limitations of the US pressure on Pakistan, the book uses a quote from a Pakistani commentator, Nadia Naviwala, who argues that “a few hundred million dollars is not much of a stick,” especially when compared with Pakistan-China relationship, which is now worth about $110 billion.

Mr Hathaway also advises the Trump administration not to overestimate the value of its favour or the attraction of its carrots.

The author argues that a country attempting leverage must minimise its dependence upon the target country, mark its priorities and also keep itself abreast of internal developments in the target country.

He also advises the Trump administration to: “Negotiate from a position of strength, and don’t take military force off the table. Do not be afraid to walk away from negotiations; the other party probably needs a bargain more than you do”.