Lahore University of Management Sciences

HSS Seminar Probes US Pakistan Relations

April 20, 2012

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Courtesy: Sameen Andleeb Mohsin Ali

Dr. Mohammad Waseem from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences organised a talk by renowned international relations expert Dr. Christophe Jaffrelot on April 19, 2012. Dr. Jafferlot, who is Director of CERI (Centre for International Studies and Reseach), spoke about "US-Pakistan Relations at the Crossroads - Once Again" to a large number of students and faculty members.

Dr. Jaffrelot began by saying that this relationship is the 'hot topic' these days, but that academic work on the subject must distance itself from the emotional, hyperbolic approach of the media toward international relations, and adopt a social scientific one instead.

The US-Pakistan relationship, Dr. Jaffrelot said is based on realpolitik, more specifically on clientilism. "Pakistan is the client of the United States, the patron, because it wishes to counter Indian influence in the South Asian region. Clientilism, he specified, is a relationship of reciprocal exchanges of favours between a patron and a client. It is always an unequal relationship, with the client owing allegiance to the patron. It is also an interest based relationship," he explained.

Dr. Jaffrelot proceeded to briefly outline the history of US-Pakistan relations, from the Truman era to the present day. He highlighted the amount of aid Pakistan has received from the US during different decades, and pointed out that until the end of the first Afghan war; both sides were getting what they wanted. Most of the money was allocated for security and security related services; in 2007, only a third went to non-security related projects. In return, the US got access to bases in Pakistan and other benefits in a geo-strategically important region.

However, when the US tried to use the same strategy post 9/11, it did not work so well, expressed Dr. Jafferlot. “The US had not anticipated that Pakistan would sign peace deals with militants in the FATA region, against US advice. Under President Obama, this relationship seems to have become more entangled.” He also noted that Pakistan has always had a harder time dealing with Democrats in government, and that the US has always had a  difficult time dealing with civilian governments in Pakistan.

Though President Obama has spoken of mutual friendship and assistance to Pakistan for development purposes, there is a disconnect between the intentions of US aid (development) and the practice of it (security). Furthermore, the Kerry Lugar Bill, Dr. Jaffrelot argued, is an attempt at micromanaging the policies of Pakistan and thus affects Pakistan's sovereignty, as do drone strikes. These developments, he debated, reflect a new attitude. The client (Pakistan) has not delivered in the FATA region, though the patron has paid. Therefore, the patron has decided to complete the task himself.

Thus, Dr. Jaffrelot explained, the rules of the game in the US-Pakistan relationship have changed. Previously, the client was on his own. Now the trend is that the patron will step in if the job is not being done. The result is a trust deficit in the relationship. The US believes that Pakistan is allowing the Haqqani network and other groups to operate and maintain safe havens on its territory. Pakistan is wary of the US's new attitude, of the new US-India rapprochement and of India's role in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has two options left, says Dr. Jaffrelot. “First, it can accept the new terms of the US-Pakistan relationship and wait till 2014. Second, Pakistan can transform itself from a client state to a pivotal state. A pivotal state is similar to a client state except that it can pivot between patrons when necessary. Pakistan has done this before: when Liaquat Ali Khan threatened to visit Moscow; when Bhutto visited the Arab states in the 1970s; and in its relationship with China during Ayub's time. Since the US-Pakistan relationship is interest based and not ideological, it is possible for Pakistan to turn to others. The question is who can it turn to?” concluded Dr. Jaffrelot.

During an interesting question answer session, Dr. Jaffrelot agreed that Pakistan's internally clientilistic structure must be taken into account when studying its international relationships. Dr. Tariq Rahman asked if it would have been at all possible for Pakistan to play the role Switzerland has, and remain neutral. Dr. Jaffrelot responded that for that to happen, the army's influence in the country would have to be much less than it is. In response to another question, he noted that if the 2014 Afghan withdrawal takes place, India's role will be crucial, and that Pakistan could be asked to be the middle man between the US and Afghanistan. When asked how tensions can be reduced in the region, Dr. Jaffrelot emphasised the need for a new fiscal policy in Pakistan, trade with India, a strong civilian government at the helm, and for US engagement with civilian Pakistani politicians rather than military personnel.