A tale of two countries

 A tale of two countries

The White House was not happy with Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court yesterday 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 U.S. developed an infamous relationship with each other, forcingPakistan to beara 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 get a deeper insight in to 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 United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, late Richard Holbrooke.

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

A. 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 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 CIA by withholding Davis in the country, it would have hurt its interests and public image even more.

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

A. At that time, 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 fromPakistani origin tried to blast a bomb in New York.

Now that fighting against militants and terrorist groups was the top priority of Obama administration, 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 shockingthat the counterparts of ISI chief Pasha and Chief of Army Staff Kayaniwere not Holbrooke or Clinton. They were David Patraeus, CIA Directorand Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Q. 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?

A. 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 ofinsecurity 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 countrybecause the amount of military aid that it gets from the U.S. might drop in number.

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

A. The larger issue is where does Pakistan want to go? Since 1947, Pakistan has had one long-standing goal: compete with 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 for competing against India and start thinking seriously about the economic and social progress that its citizens want.

Q. What do you think about Trump Administration's decision to ban immigrants from the Muslim-majority countries?

A. It is funny thatTrump didn't apply the Muslim ban to countries with whom he conducts business or has good relations with 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.'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 writer is a Summer Fellow at Sunlight Foundation in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at The University of Chicago. He tweets at @FAhmedSh



Published in Daily Times, July 30th , 2017.