VIEW : Will Nawaz Sharif mend Pak-US ties? — Fakiha Hassan Rizvi
Dependency on the US is inevitable as this is not 1999, and the post-9/11 scenario has knitted Pakistan in the nexus of the war on terror
With the electoral results of Pakistan at the international and national display, the triumph of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is prominent. Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is geared up to take his seat as the premier of the country for the third time now. His victory speech promises the execution of his reasonable and sound manifesto (based on three Es: Energy, Economy and Education). The activities of the party, after its huge success, exhibit the renewed commitment through which Mr Sharif wants to tackle the problems entangling Pakistan. He has received a warm message from arch-rival India, the terror-ridden Afghanistan and the United States has acknowledged his election campaign and the mandate of Pakistanis in his favour. The new government will have to confront multiple challenges ranging from terrorism at home and in the region, to the faltering economy, making the country more dependent on foreign loans. In connection to this, Mr Sharif might be using his induction in the ruling position to amend the oscillating Pak-US ties during the tenure of Zardari-led coalition.
Foreign policy, especially the bilateral relations with the US, is going to be a more complex and intricate issue for the third term of Mr Sharif. A bird’s eye view of Pak-US ties since the previous tenure of Mr Sharif reflects that he took credit for the country’s nuclear tests in 1998. Even though the focus of American diplomatic strata remained converged at the objective of dissuading Pakistan from conducting the nuclear tests. At that point, every single dollar being rejected to India could have poured into Pakistan. As expected, the nuclear explosions were followed by heavy economic sanctions from the US. Adding fuel to the fire, the Kargil misadventure deteriorated the image of Pakistan and brought it under international glare. There was a rift in relations with the US.
After General Pervez Musharraf’s coup, Pakistan was stigmatised for three reasons, broadly speaking: nuclear weapons programme for its suspension of democracy, and for its support of the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, the ambiance of alliance and amicability started after 9/11. This did not last long and Pakistan;s democratic transition brought Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) into power. Since then, major developments took place and Pak-US ties wavered.
The diplomatic immunity given to Raymond Davis gave vent to anti-US sentiments in Pakistan. The events following the success of the ‘Abbottabad raid’ never made a smooth road for the allies to tread on. The dwindling relations were further deteriorated by the attack on Salala check post by the NATO forces. The public reacted strongly with protests all over the country. To contain the resentment of the masses, government took measures adversely affecting the US exit strategy from Afghanistan, including the evacuation of Shamsi air base and closure of the NATO supply line. The Zardari-led ruling coalition did not leave a grazed field near the end of its constitutional tenure by initiating the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, which was not viable in the eyes of the US. Moreover, handing over the Gawadar port to China is not a good omen for US hawks.
Senator John Kerry is likely to visit Pakistan as soon as the new government takes up the daunting task of ameliorating the socio-political set up of Pakistan. Mr Sharif has an intention to boost ties with the US. It is noteworthy that throughout the election campaign, the PML-N took a vague stance against drone strikes. Unlike its competing political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which even planned a long march against drone strikes during electioneering. The PTI has earned the confidence of the people of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On the contrary, Pentagon has no plans to end drone strikes. US Assistant Defence Secretary Michael Sheehan has explicitly stated recently before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services that drone strikes may continue during the next two decades and war is where enemy exists (from Boston to FATA). Consequently, Americans already expect a lot from the next government of Pakistan.
The public opinion in Pakistan is antagonistic to US aspirations. According to the Pew Research Global attitudes Project, “Only 11 percent of Pakistanis express a positive opinion of the US.” Not only this, but “64 percent of Pakistanis consider the US as an enemy.” The report released on May 7, 2013, further explains that the US is getting extraordinarily negative ratings in Pakistan. Under such circumstances, maintaining a necessity-based friendship would be an arduous task for Mr Sharif and his cabinet. Dependency on the US is inevitable as this is not 1999, and the post-9/11 scenario has knitted Pakistan in the nexus of the war on terror. Islamabad will have to sustain a smooth relationship with Washington by using Mr Sharif’s prudence. This will be the most expeditious diplomatic move that Nawaz Sharif will have to make, while keeping in view the sentiments of the masses that voted for his party.
The writer is a student of BS Communication Studies at University of the Punjab and blogs at http://www.fakihahassanrizvi.wordpress.com. She Tweets at @Fakiha_Rizvi
Originally published in Daily Times newspaper http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C06%5C04%5Cstory_4-6-2013_pg3_4