March issue 2006

By | Editorial | Viewpoint | Published 18 years ago

Those were testing times. Post-Kargil, post Nawaz Sharif’s ouster by a military regime. Clinton, then president of the US, ‘transited’ in Pakistan on his way back home from India, for precisely five hours, in which he lectured Pakistanis directly on the virtues of democracy in a nationally televised address (so much for sovereignty).

These are ‘better’ days, comparatively speaking. Post-September 11, post Pakistan’s co-option as a front-line ally in the US war on terror, and our “sterling” performance in delivering terrorists at Washington D.C.’s doorstep. So when US President George W. Bush stopped in Islamabad for a full 24 hours, after a trip to India in which several ‘sweet’ deals were signed, including one on providing nuclear technology for civilian purposes — never mind India’s refusal to sign the NPT — one expected Pakistan to get at least a small slice of the cake.

But other than lauding Mush for appointing his daughter as lady-in-waiting to Mrs Laura Bush during her stay in Isloo, playing cricket in the US Embassy backyard, and lecturing his ‘buddy’ on the virtues of democracy and free and fair elections, the US President had nothing to offer. Not even F-16s. What’s more, the much touted Bilateral Investment Treaty, which was expected to provide Pakistani exporters greater access to US markets – a facility granted to countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Jordan and Kenya — was not signed.

Agitated Pakistanis are demanding to know exactly what Mr Bush delivered to its staunchest ally in tangible terms (other than baseballs and sermons). A perfectly fair question, given our propensity to deliver at the drop of a hat. Why we even delivered 48 heads, on a silver platter in Waziristan, a day prior to Bush’s arrival. The “collateral damage” that Pakistan has suffered as a consequence of its desire to be in the US loop is colossal, and continues to mount. But no one in the corridors of power is counting.

The US, meanwhile, is fashioning a new world order in which India, the fastest emerging economic power, is destined to play a major role, both as a market for US goods and as a bulwark against China. In this swiftly changing scenario, shouldn’t Pakistan be weighing its own options, rather than looking to Capitol Hill for a few crumbs occasionally thrown its way?

Our relationship with the US has always been one of convenience — the US’s convenience. And let there be no illusions on that score. They have dictated the rules of engagement, and we have followed obsequiously, with total disregard for our national interests . Maybe it’s finally time we stopped “beating around the Bush” and focused our energies on putting our own house in order to stake a claim as a sovereign and responsible entity in the comity of nations.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.