US or not
is a lot on the table'
afford an isolationist policy'
The state-to-state relationship between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the most important bilateral interaction in the world after the end of the Cold War, which itself was such a major event that it prompted Francis Fukuyama to declare as marking the end of history. History could have ended after the fall of the Berlin Wall had the neo-colonial American empire not needed a new ideological Other to sustain the idea of its own Self. The ideologues of militant Islamism fulfilled this American need and, once again, Pakistan was the frontline mercenary state, once again fighting a 'war' to keep the American dream alive.
The history of this relationship begins even before Pakistan was created. On the 11th of August, 1947, the then Secretary of State sent a congratulatory message to Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and wished him success in the making of the sate of Pakistan. After its creation, Pakistan, in order to differentiate its foreign policy from that of India, became an ally of the West. India became a non-aligned partner of the USSR. In the 1950s, Pakistan joined SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organisation) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation). Both the treaties were to ensure defence cooperation against the spread of communism. In those days, because of East Pakistan's location, Pakistan could also be useful against communism in South East Asia. These defence alliances against communism were, at that time, seen as sources of strength against India. In other words, the reason for Liaqat Ali Khan's refusal to Stalin's invitation to visit Moscow in 1950 and decision to visit Washington instead was also determined by the choices India had made for itself. In 1954, the government of Eisenhower formalised the US-Pakistan relationship, based on shared ideological aspirations.
The state of Pakistan has helped, for mercenary or missionary reasons, American national and international ambitions since the 50s, often at the cost of alienating its own citizens. In 1971, Pakistan helped the USA normalise its relationship with China by arranging a secret meeting between the Chinese officials and Henry Kissinger aboard a PIA flight bound to Beijing. By 1979, Pakistan was also involved in defending Western capitalism against Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan, an frontline adventure which changed almost the entire cultural landscape of Pakistan. For the first time, the people of Pakistan became familiar with American-financed jihad fought by proxy warriors overseen by the state of Pakistan. The withdrawal and subsequent balkanisation of the Soviet Union brought another set of problems because the allies had not created any roadmaps for the post-Soviet era.
September 11, 2001, brought the two nations together again. This time, the people of Pakistan are showing signs of ambivalence because of the militarisation of the state machinery and the marginalisation of democratic powers in Pakistan. To understand this extremely complex and volatile situation, we are presenting a special report on the nature of the bilateral relations between the USA and Pakistan and how this interaction is affecting the lives of Pakistanis.
The headlines and the dividends
The most significant achievement of prime minister's US visit, the passage of the Biden-Lugar Bill, did not make headlines. The war on terror did
By Farah Zia
Pakistan's relations with the United States have always operated under the shadows of war. They began with the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s and continued during the not so cold Afghan war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The new war that forms the context of Prime Minister Gillani's visit to the United States, besides determining the Pak-US relations, is the war on terror, a war the prime minister insists is Pakistan's own and not that of the US. The allusion, of course, is to that other proxy war we fought for the US and hence the repeated clarification.
The most significant achievement of the visit, the passage of the Biden-Lugar Bill that ensures $15 billion of non-military aid for Pakistan which has also been called a 'democracy dividend', did not make the headlines. The war on terror did.
The clumsy notification about bringing the ISI under the Ministry of Interior was linked with the situation on our Western borders as much as the missile strike on the grounds of a former religious school near Azam Warsak, a village in South Waziristan less than three miles from the Afghanistan border that incidentally coincided with the prime minister's visit. New York Times' top story of the third day of the visit was about the CIA pointing to links between the ISI and the militant group of Jalaluddin Haqqani who, they claim, has close ties with senior figures of al-Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Analysts here may have been reminded of some historical facts like the ones about Haqqani having served the US -- and the CIA -- during the first Afghan war, but the truth is that the war on terror made headlines during the prime minister's visit. While democracy and the US financial aid for democracy in Pakistan did not because the word democracy was uttered alongside sovereignty. And that changed the context. President Bush made an "unambiguous commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty" at the White House lawns after his 45-minute long meeting with Prime Minister Gillani. He repeated that the US "respects the sovereignty of this democracy".
The issue of US strike inside the Pakistani soil apparently did not come up in the summit and Sherry Rehman, the minister for Information, did not see the connection between the two -- respect for sovereignty and the strike. But, as she indicated, Pakistan did convey its concerns to the Americans. However, it seems there is a clear disconnect between the American understanding of our sovereignty and that of Pakistan's own. When the US president mentions it, he probably means the United States is not serious about reports that advocate "deployment of ground forces across the border from Afghanistan to raid terrorist camps in Pakistan". The missile strikes by drones may not count in his definition of sovereignty or its transgression. Why else would they time this recent strike so perfectly with our leader's visit?
War on terror was indeed the context and hence the situation on the Afghan border came up for discussion during the summit. The two leaders agreed to make sure that the border was "secured as best as possible". Bush expressed his desire for democracy to succeed in Afghanistan and Gillani agreed with him on the need for a peaceful country on its border. Again perceptions vary and Pakistan is not too happy with Karzai's allegations constantly hurled on its side, bringing our intelligence agency into the picture and blaming it for the bombing of Indian embassy in Kabul and before that the attack on Karzai himself.
The activities of our intelligence agency may have been looked at with suspicion even internally but the bad press it has received internationally has somehow united the local opinion. Pakistani analysts have put their unanimous weight behind this Kabul-Delhi-Washington nexus out to defame Pakistan's 'rogue' elements while ignoring their own.
The 'testy' and 'harsh' reception that some US officials were predicting for the Pakistani delegation did not quite happen. Obviously the sticky issues were complex, with Pakistan having a different set of expectations than US but, by and large, the visit bode well for democracy in Pakistan. The declaration about restoration of judges and impeachment of President Musharraf may not be the immediate consequences of this visit but the $ 15 billion non-military aid over the next ten years, to be spent on education, health and development, envisages a longer term engagement than the US is used to having with Pakistan.
Pakistan's interest was to enhance its military capability vis a vis India while the American interest was to equip Pakistan to a level where it would prove to be a potent bulwark state against the communist threat
By Tahir Jamil
The US aid (military and economic) to Pakistan has been based primarily on the posture that the United States of America assumed after World War II to contain the expansion of the USSR influence -- consequently, Communism. In the wake of this development on the international horizon, Pakistan's geo-strategic location led America to recognise its importance. On the other hand, a constant threat to its security from neighbouring India made it imperative for Pakistan to develop long-term relations with a super power that could cater for its defense and economic needs. The only viable option available was USA.
Initially, a great deal of confusion prevailed regarding the future discourse of the country's foreign policy. The marginalised popular voices put emphasis on Pan-Islamism, as Pakistan had been created in the name of Islam. But the real power players -- for example, Ayub Khan, Sikandar Mirza and Governor General Ghulam Muhammad -- were in favour of developing cordial and long-term relations with the US.
In his book, Pakistan: A Modern History, Ian Talbot -- Professor of History at Southampton University, UK -- opines that the removal of Khawaja Nazimuddin, the second prime minister of Pakistan, was also because of the differences that he had developed with the given troika on the issue of foreign policy. From that point onwards, there started an epochal relationship between the key power players in Pakistan and USA that was to later on affect the entire course of our foreign policy.
The third Governor General of Pakistan, Ghulam Muhammad, paid a visit to the USA in 1853. The US declared Pakistan its frontline ally in South Asia against communism in 1954. Since then the American aid has been pouring in -- in both military/defense and economic categories. Immediately, a six-point agreement called 'Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement' was signed. Pakistan got aid in the form of equipment and material to modernise its inventory, apart from an exchange of technical information regarding defense. Pakistan also received US government personnel whose job was to discharge their responsibilites in the territory as stated by the agreement. In return, Pakistan was bound to support the American initiatives in dealing with peace-threatening issues. Pakistan received military assistance worth 1.5 billion dollars as well as economic aid. It was obvious that America trusted Pakistan to play a very important role in the cold war setting.
This relationship was further strengthened when Pakistan signed on SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organisation) in 1954 and CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation) -- then called Baghdad Pact -- in 1957. Pakistan's all-out reliance on the US military and economic aid was because of its apprehensions regarding India, considered a potent threat to its security. Pakistan was left with the issue of Kashmir and, later, it proved to be one major fault-line in Pak-India relations. Pakistan's interest was to enhance its military capability vis a vis India while the American interest was to equip Pakistan to a level where it would prove to be a potent bulwark state against the communist threat. This commonality of interest clashed whenever there emerged a conflict between India and Pakistan.
The dimension of US relations with Pakistan can be gauged from the way this aid was channeled. In Ayub Khan's era, Pakistan continued with its pro-US policy and, hence, aid was disbursed to it in both economic and military categories. For the first time, American president John F Kennedy accepted the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan as the international border. But the relations began to get strained after the Indo-China war of 1962. The US supported India as the latter shared its democratic ideals. Pakistan felt it had been betrayed by the US. As a result, the balance tilted towards India that was against the interests of Pakistan.
Again, in the wars of 1965 and 1971, no military -- let alone diplomatic -- assistance was afforded to Pakistan. Both the US and Britain stayed neutral. America severed its cordial ties with Pakistan. The Ayub era that had been lauded as the decade of development, thanks to the economic and military assistance from the USA, ended in mayhem.
It can be safely inferred from the discussion above that both military and economic aid was considered crucial for uplifting Pakistan. In the Ayub era, the Americans helped us settle outstanding issues with our neighbouring countries (chiefly Afghanistan and India). America helped us substantially to build infrastructure viable enough to support our economic development. But we gave central importance to our military and strategic needs at the cost of our economic development. Our authorities badly failed to bargain with the US over economic benefits. Unfortunately, what was accrued in terms of economic assistance was used less cautiously. It was because of the attitude of the authorities towards a virtual, participatory popular governance. The authorities have a strong mistrust to the politician and the political process. What we observe that the national unity that could be forged through the introduction of a well-functioning political system and distributive economic policies was missing.
The cordiality of relations that we enjoyed with the US could have been converted into Pakistan's economic strength. Strategic relations are short-lived and economic relations have a long life. But Pakistani authorities shifted core to the periphery. The main reason can be centralisation policy of the military regime and the it is the obvious outcome of the phenomenon.
While dealing with a debate on foreign policy the question of morality cannot be inserted. Contradictions in American attitude in dealing with its own citizens and with the rest of the world is often questioned. It can be addressed in this way that our foreign policy had (in post-9/11 the situation has changed) little to do directly with American people. Their participation in the political process is directed from the analysis of how much benefits they are to get from the policies of the government. Moreover, through a well functioning representative system, the American people do have a substantial say in the formulation of government policies. But in the case of Pakistan, the policies -- whatever crucial they are to the sovereignty of the country -- are made out of the whims of the authorities.
Despite all endeavours made by the authorities in the name of development and strengthening the country's strategic position, Pakistan is in a compromising position which is much more serious than it ever was.
Islamabad will have to adjust its foreign policy to align with Washington's plans for Pakistan's western borders in general and the tribal areas in particular, which it sees now as fast turning into a virtual non-country that houses its biggest enemies
By Adnan Rehmat
George W Bush has led America's 'war against terrorism' since that fateful deceptive morning on Sep 11, 2001. His administration named Osama Bin Laden as responsible for the biggest act of terrorism against the United States, and probably against the Western world, in recent decades. Bin Laden happened to be based, along with his organisation Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, next door to Pakistan. In the ensuing years, the American-led war against Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and their myriad supporters, has been waged in both the conventional form -- wars and regime change against countries (Iraq and Afghanistan) that were supposedly hosting and aiding the accused -- and in other ways (intelligence and/or covert operations) with or without the permission of dozens of countries. Pakistan falls in the latter bracket, for now. Many are starting to become convinced that new developments may change all that and elevate Pakistan into the former group.
The result of the war against terror has been, at a minimum, tens of thousands dead, injured or arrested/tortured and millions displaced. Collateral damage is probably difficult to quantify with accuracy. The outcome is a world that is more paranoid, more unsettling and more uncertain than before the terrible events of 9/11. After Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan is probably the state most adversely affected and mortally wounded by the aftermath of 9/11. Political and socio-economic stability has wreaked havoc with both non-state and state terrorism against large parts of the country leaving many reeling with talk growing of the state coming unraveled and a change in political boundaries.
Heads You Win, Tails I Lose
The foreign policy of Pakistan has always had relations with the US at its centre. And it's been a bittersweet relationship. The lack of a sustainably strategic and consensual framework of bilateral relations has both benefitted and blighted Pakistan. Benefitted by way of supporting Pakistan economically and militarily at key moments of its history when usually India has threatened (and, in 1971, actually achieved the goal) to unravel the country. And blighted by way of supporting the varieties of either shameless or clever military dictatorships, which have ensured that the country has never been clear about its national ambition -- there is no national consensus of what kind of Pakistan its constituents want in, say, 2050. If the consensus was a 'prosperous Pakistan' the rampant poverty, illiteracy and over-population and institutional discrimination on religious, gender and national grounds, as enshrined in the constitution, and the inter-provincial, sectarian and socio-economic tensions is certainly no way to go about it.
The post-9/11 Pak-US relations have been a pretty much predictable affair with leaves heavily borrowed from the past for solutions but interesting in its contradictions nonetheless. For Pakistan, relationship with the US has always been a case of 'heads you win, tails I lose'. In the late 1970s, when the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan afforded a chance to the US to deal a mortal blow to the Kremlin via a proxy war, the Pakistani military dictatorship stepped up as a solution in a Faustian bargain. Tens of billions of dollars flowed in and the military was supported in its control of the country for a decade. Democracy suffered and a largely secular population was radicalised to generate support (and provide fodder -- 'mujahideen') for the jihad, which wasn't such a dirty word in the 1980s. Fast forward to the first decade of the new millennium and voila! The military comes in handy again, so democracy suffers again. Musharraf and his men in uniform remain entrenched for most part of this decade and the big bucks keep rolling in. But there's a reverse 'social engineering' to do this time: attempts to force -- secularise a by-now radicalised nation.
Heroes and Villains
However, this is not the 1980s. The heroes of then (mujahideen/Taliban including Bin Laden) are the villains of today and vice versa (US is now the 'occupier', not 'liberator'), as the local perceptions go. And both Washington and Islamabad know it. However, the options of fashioning a 'better' public profile for both Islamabad and Washington in the country here is limited by not what Pakistan wants but the US. And that means really hard times ahead for Pakistan, for the US is gearing up for no less than war in Pakistan's tribal areas since it seems to have run out of patience with both Pakistan's willingness and capacity to do Washington's bidding in the Pak-Afghan border regions. The problem with this solution is that it translates into political suicide for Islamabad. The military establishment's reluctance to give up its 'back-up plan' of keeping the Taliban card intact in case of the collapse of the Indian-supported Karzai government and installing its own proxies in Kabul at some future date runs afoul of US interest in containing and destroying the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine, which it has determined has recouped from the international attack on it and claims is getting ready to mount another 9/11-scale event.
This is bad news for Pakistan. If the post- and pre-9/11 history of PaK-US bilateral relations is any guide, Islamabad will have little to do but adjust its foreign policy to align with Washington's plans for Pakistan's western borders in general and the tribal areas in particular, which it sees now as fast turning into a virtual non-country that houses its biggest enemies. And this means, to get ready to redeploy the Pakistan Army in the tribal areas -- this time ultra-aggressively -- face heavy loss of men and material, trigger heavy collateral damage and risk a full-scale insurgency. Because such an eventuality is, many believe, set up for failure (the last three years have seen major military failures and net secession of territory to non-state actors) in the short-term, the conditions will be ripe for the US to technically dispense with its respect for Pakistan's sovereignty and invade the tribal areas, in the medium-term. Such a course will, if it comes to that, it can be assumed, be ordered by the next US president rather than the incumbent (unless a certain tall, gaunt and bearded Arab is spotted in the tribal areas earlier).
And that means either Barrack Obama or John McCain (depending on who makes it to the White House this fall) will put their signatures on the invasion order (their job has been made clearer by the CIA declaring this summer that the tribal areas have all but emerged as the place where the next 9/11 is being given final shape). If its helps to understand better, here's what both these leaders say, in their own words, in their respective future official strategies on the war against terror in short essays in the latest Time magazine edition on how to defeat Al Qaeda and Taliban:
Obama: "We must recognise that the central front in the war on terror is not in Iraq, and it never was. The central front is Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is unacceptable that almost seven years after 9/11, those responsible for the attacks remain at large. If another attack on our homeland occurs, it will likely come from the same region where 9/11 was planned... We should condition some assistance to Pakistan on their action to take the fight to the terrorists in their borders. And if we have actionable intelligence about high-level Al-Qaeda targets, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot."
McCain: "A special focus of our regional strategy must be Pakistan where terrorists today enjoy sanctuary... We need to convince Pakistanis that this is their war as much as it is ours... When I'm Commander-in-Chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run and nowhere they can hide."
Since there is likely to be virtually no honeymoon period between a new White House occupant in Washington and the President/Prime Minister House(s) in Islamabad, the pressure will be on Pakistan to deliver immediately or let the Americans 'finish a job you can't'. And the American establishment has until the New Year to allow Islamabad to wipe out the biggest threat to the planetís most powerful country. How many in Pakistan, let alone an impatient world, believe this is possible? Go figure. What goes for Pak-US bilateral relations post-9/11 is nothing more than a diplomatic order for Pakistan to make up for America's war against terror failures. While for the US the brief is to succeed come hell or high water, Pakistan's problem is that it can't even fail properly, leave alone succeeding.
-- Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali, foreign minister (1993-96)
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The News on Sunday: What do you think is the significance of Prime Minister Gillani's recently concluded visit to the US?
Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali: Everytime a head of the state or government goes to the United States it implies certain significance. In the minds of the people, it raises expectations that are sometimes beyond the realm of reality. However, this visit certainly has significance because after a long time there is a democratically elected government in Pakistan and the PM has got mandate from the entire national assembly, including those parties which today claim to be the opposition. The PM heads the biggest coalition in the history of South Asia. This is almost like a national government and the war government of Winston Churchill.
It's also true that President George W Bush exercised an enabling role for General Musharraf to relinquish the post of the Chief of Army Staff as well as exerted his full influence in a fair and free election. So in this context, the PM's visit is very important.
With regard to the Pak-US relations I think there is a lot on the table that is in the process of being thrashed out. First and foremost are the security issues related to the Pak-Afghan border. It was generally believed in Pakistan that the FATA people were not connected to the resistance of Taliban within Afghanistan. Some people continued to believe in this fiction. The ISAF forces in Afghanistan have, however, often accused Pakistan for not doing enough to contain the cross-border movement of militants on the borders. As a result there's now a very strong perception in USA and, in fact, all countries participating in the ISAF forces that the principle source of resistance within Afghanistan i.e. Taliban are being abetted, supported and supplied by the FATA tribals. This was further compounded by the presence of allegedly thousands of alien militants in the area. The US has often blamed Pakistan for not doing enough even though Pakistan has deployed its army and security forces for the last four years resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. I personally believe that FATA is being used not only as a staging area for the Afghan war but now threatens to engulf the whole of NWFP and even to threaten Islamabad itself. Washington has often shown great impatience with this situation. Under the doctrine of pre-emption ISAF forces hit across the border at what they term Taliban/Qaeda strongholds with drones and missiles. This causes great anguish in Pakistan and the country appears to be caught in the crossfire. The Bush-Gillani summit has been a forum to discuss this burning issue i.e. ISAF's security versus Pakistan's sovereignty. Pakistan also hopes to win major military and economic bailout. On the issue of national defence there is already progress because the US Congress I believe has already agreed to foot the bill of upgradation of our F16 fleet.
On the economic front, I think the Biden resolution in the Congress will get the support of the White House. Once this resolution is legislated Pakistan will be assured $1.5b annual non-military assistance. Another issue that has been touched upon is the status of the Indo-Pak composite dialogue process. But for a few symbolic CBMs the process has very little to show for itself causing immense frustration amongst the people of Pakistan and of Kashmir. However, I understand that Kashmir is now very much a part of US concern.
The India-US nuclear treaty has also been a matter of discussion. No doubt it is a major irritant for Pakistan. But I think here Pakistan should make a very serious effort for a similar treaty with the US. Pakistan can cause a problem in the IAEA where voting might be required. The irony is that the US was the architect of NPT. In 1996, it mothered a resolution in the UN general assembly for unlimited extension of the treaty. The Indo-US nuclear treaty will ring the death knell of the NPT. In short, I think, the summit has gone in a positive direction and might well be the beginning of a new US-Pakistan relationship which was hitherto crafted to support one man, not a country, not a people and not a democracy.
TNS: You just said that PM Gillani represented the coalition in the US. But at the same time you say the coalition does not seem to work. What exactly are the reasons?
SAAA: My wish is that this coalition should work but it doesn't seem to be working.
See, coalitions are based on a minimum national agenda: economic, national security and international security. But on all major issues, the PML-N seems to have a focus elsewhere. It's not about the differences on judges only. There appear to be fundamental differences in internal and external security. I find this very disturbing. I wish that the PML-N would agree to a minimum national agenda rather than keep on bickering about judges and raise objections on minor protocol issues. They can't have their cake and eat it, too. Mian Nawaz Sharif is constantly hammering away at the US and he would want us only to talk with militants in FATA. This is not our policy. Secondly, in FATA, we believe in negotiations and the use of force when it is absolutely necessary. If Pakistan walks out of FATA, the Taliban will get a signal that Pakistan does not have the spine to contain them. In the tribal culture, unilateral withdrawal will be read as surrender. Every Pakistani must ask himself if he wants the Islam of suicide bombers or the Islam of Jinnah and Iqbal.
TNS: How is the government's US policy different from that of the previous government?
SAAA: The US policy of Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz was based on subservience to Washington. Our policy is based on mutuality of interests. Musharraf's policy was based on use of force only; ours is based on use of force when it is absolutely necessary along with negotiations. This is a major difference. Let me also add that sensible nations do not take U-turns on foreign policy which can be disastrous but follow a policy of gradual change based on self interest. That is exactly what we are trying to do.
TNS: It was being said that PM Gillani will try to gather US support on Musharraf's impeachment during his visit? But there has not been any breakthrough on the front. Why?
SAAA: We never said that we would go for Musharraf's impeachment. It's not our agenda. Our agenda was the complete restoration of the powers of the legislature. Once we achieve this goal Musharraf will be history. We have been trying to convince our coalition partners that we must act sensibly and take what's ours and make Musharraf irrelevant and then ease him out. We have sent them the 18th Constitutional amendment bill which aims at not only restoring the lost power of parliament but also the independence of judiciary. The stance of the PML-N appears to me to be self-contradictory and self-defeating. However, I still hope the coalition will work in tandem for the above goals.
TNS: What would you say about the government's decision to put ISI under the command of the interior ministry? Was it a move to appease the US?
SAAA: My understanding of the issue is that ISI is an external/internal intelligence agency which is comprised of four elements: Army, Navy, PAF and civilians. It reports to the PM who is empowered by the Constitution and rules of the business to appoint Director General of ISI. So there was no need to shift the line ministry to the interior ministry as ISI is already under the civilian governmentís control. What is needed is that there should be a National Assembly oversight committee to which all the intelligence agencies must report so that complaints of political interference and misuse of power can be rectified. I would be the last person to recommend the shifting of ISI from PM's jurisdiction to the ministry of interior.
-- Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, foreign minister (2002-07)
By Ahmad Kamal & Usman Ghafoor
The News on Sunday: What is the significance of the Pak-US relations, especially in the context of the extensive aid we receive annually?
Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri: Well, first of all, let's get one thing straight: United States is every nation's neighbour. It's the neighbour of the Latin American countries; it has a huge presence in Africa because of its interests in the region; and, obviously, its focus on South and Central Asia has become very pronounced overtime. And, I think, it is Pakistan's own strategic location that's very important. Pakistan is a large country -- sixth largest in the world (population-wise). It is also the world's second largest Muslim country. Besides, it is the only Islamic nuclear state. Therefore, it can play a very important role. But, equally important is the United States' focus on Central Asia and Pakistan's strategic position in relation to that. You can gauge it from the fact that whereas earlier they had separate desks for South Asia and Central Asia, till a few years ago, when I was the foreign minister, they now just have one person, Mr Boucher, who's looking after both. That means we are inextricably linked. Moreover, the natural gas reserves in Central Asia are, perhaps, second only to those in the Middle East or, who knows, maybe, larger; we'll find that out in due course. Pakistan provides a route to these areas. So you can understand why the US should have so much interest in the country.
Furthermore, Pakistan's geo-strategic location, for example, during the cold war -- a time when, again, US and Pakistan needed each other -- is highly important.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, the power disparity in South Asia made it clear to our leaders, immediately after partition, that Pakistan cannot afford to have an isolationist policy. From Quaid e Azam onwards through Liaqat Ali Khan, Ayub Khan and whoever, there's been a link with the United States for the containment of Soviet Union and then during the Afghan war and now after 9/11 in the war on terror. Despite the ups and downs, the fact remains that both the countries have needed each other. And, that is why, all governments in Pakistan have historically tried to have good relations with America.
TNS: What, do you think, is the extent of Pakistan's dependency over American aid?
KMK: Our economy has grown immensely during the last seven or eight years. The present worth of the economy is $150 billion. Few believe that much of the aid we get is reimbursements for the costs incurred due to Pakistan's participation in the war on terror. On an average, 700-750 million dollars a year.is the aid we get. So, it's not such an enormous amount. But, the signal it sends is very positive. The signal it sends to the European Union, to the rest of the international community, to major international lending institutions.and to our own private sector is that US is a very important country and it has good relations with Pakistan. So, if you look at it, this does help Pakistan, economically, not in terms of just half a percent or less of the GDP, but it does bolster the confidence of our private sector. And the international private sector also finds it more comfortable to make investments in Pakistan. However, these are all indirect advantages. In terms of direct advantages -- of course because of the fact that we have a very large neighbour on our borders -- Pakistan has got international linkages, by having very close relations with the US, proactive relations with the rest of the world including the European Union, particular emphasis on China, the Islamic world, Japan and Russia.
In military terms, I think the US help has made a significant difference to the preparedness of our armed forces to deter any aggression by our next-door neighbour.
TNS: Do you think the United States uses its extensive aid to Pakistan as a leverage to protect its own national interests?
KMK: Well, every country leverages its own advantages. We leverage our advantages, they leverage theirs. Every country is supposed to look after its own national interests.
TNS: …at whatever cost?
KMK: Well, I'd cut the sentence here: Every country looks after its own national interests. You don't expect others to look after your national interests.
TNS: America has supported dictatorial regimes in Pakistan when it served its interests. Do you think the advent of democracy in Pakistan would have any effect -- positive or negative -- on the relations with US?
KMK: Pakistan is a strange mixture. Even when we've had a military rule, the rulers have found it necessary to get legitimacy through the Supreme Court. And, then, under President Musharraf, the media has had unprecedented freedom. I think, to a large extent, media in its present shape happened in Musharraf's regime. We have 70 to 80 TV channels. Look at the salaries the media people are paid. And I am very happy because a healthy media is a guarantee for democracy. So, what you are saying may be true of some countries in the Middle East, but not Pakistan. We have a very strong middle class, our media is very strong and vociferous. Our lawyers and our civil society have shown that they can defy for a long time. Pakistan cannot, thus, be described as a country which is not really democratic. Yes, we've had different types of dispensations -- military, democratic, quasidemocratic. The truth is that it's just not possible for any government to ignore the public opinion for long enough. A strong, vibrant public opinion as reflected through the parliament and the media cannot be ignored by any government in Pakistan; and that will be the best guarantee for democracy. It's a separate issue that when our political leaders are in opposition, they accuse the government of the day of being 'America's stooge', but when they come into power, they all try to have good relations with the US.
TNS: Should we always support the United States -- even at the cost of our national interests and sovereignty?
KMK: I didn't say that. That's what you are saying. You see, the question is, and I repeat, we have to look after our national interests. Look at our prevailing situation; look at the public unhappiness; the current economic situation and, of course, the political uncertainty in the country. I don't think any government in Pakistan would try and adopt a policy that will have negative consequences on our economy and defence preparedness. You can say that the governments are forced to look at all the factors that I have mentioned.
If they say it has a negative effect on our relations with China, on our nuclear programme, no government will compromise. We didn't. Even on Iraq war or on Iran.
Even our leaders by striking up friendly relations with the United States took a decision that has guaranteed our sovereignty in the context of our immediate neighbours. When you talk of sovereignty in general terms, it becomes rhetorical. Why? All countries of the world, for example, have today made compromises on their sovereignty and they are making it every day. For instance, all countries of the European Union. So, the concept of sovereignty in the 19th and 20th century is being amended.
Unfortunately, the current European governments have failed on trade negotiations, but when you have an agreement, all countries abide by it. The European countries' agreement to adhere to certain value systems, to the courts of human rights in Europe, all impinges upon their sovereignty. People sometimes redefine sovereignty but never do they compromise on their basic, core national interest.