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Monday, December 22, 2014  
Eyes on US

by Javed Hafiz
From Eisenhower to Reagan, all of them had a soft corner for Pakistan

US presidential elections are followed with keen interest in Pakistan. Logically  the Pakistanis should be as much interested in changes at the top in neighbouring India and China. India elected its new president recently but it did not evoke much interest in Pakistan. The reason perhaps was that the Indian  president is not as important as the prime minister as far as powers are concerned. The head of state’s office in India is largely ceremonial. Presidential elections in China are a quieter affair. The US president is both head of state and government.  The US is still the sole superpower and its president is perhaps the most powerful public office holder in the world. US presidential elections are held with lots of fanfare and result in a gross expenditure of around one billion dollars.

Traditionally, Pakistani governments have had better relationships with Republican presidents. Starting from Dwight D.Eisenhower to Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan, all of them had a soft corner for Pakistan. However, the foreign policy preferences of the two parties are not as markedly distinct today as they were in the cold war era. And interestingly Pakistanis are one of the few nations which favour Mit Romney over Obama. Pakistanis generally perceive Obama as insensitive to their feelings. US’ intrusive intelligence presence,  the Bin Laden episode , Salala assault and regular drone attacks on the tribal areas have all added up to this negative perception.

The military to military relationship has been the lynchpin of
Pak-US relations. This relationship reached its nadir during the Ayub Khan days and again in the 1980’s when Pakistan became a front ine state to oust the Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The AF-Pak policy of US President Barack Obama had two prongs; the military surge in Afghanistan and more drone attacks on militants holed up in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Both have failed to control the insurgency. I think Obama’s Pakistan policy had some serious defects and one of those was his support for the civilian government at a wrong time and in a shoddy manner.

 The Zardari-led government has been weak and the Obama administration had realised it in the beginning. And yet it made several attempts to support the civilian government at the cost of the military establishment. Now civilian control over the military establishment is a laudable objective but then there is a correct time for everything. The roles have been reversed and the civilian set up is seen as too pliant to the United States. So Zardari’s control over the military is generally perceived as US control over the Pakistani armed forces. A corrupt government, which has little legitimacy, cannot control a set up that is still very efficient. One reason for the efficiency of Pakistani forces is strict adherence to rules and merit in recruitment, postings and promotions.

 I have always argued that Pakistani civilian set up would be able to control of its military once it starts producing leaders of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s calibre. The military is still a powerful institution in Pakistan and the Obama administration tried to ignore this ground reality. The military commands the respect of the people because of its sacrifices in the war on terror. It took the right stand during the negotiations on the Kerry Luger aid bill. For example, it said that the safety and security of nuclear weapons was the sole responsibility of the Pakistani authorities. Similarly it was for Pakistan to determine the nature and extent of US intelligence presence in Pakistan.

OMAN TRIBUNE

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