May 17, 2016

Pakistan fears repeat of 1990s US policy

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Pakistan is assessing whether a recent move by US lawmakers to stop the American administration from funding the sale of eight F-16 jets is a ‘temporary hiccup’ in their roller coaster relationship or whether Washington will abandon Islamabad as it had done in the late 1980s.

Government and security officials suggested that while a complete breakdown in Pakistan-US relations is not imminent, there is greater urgency to prepare for the worst—a repeat of 1989 when the US abruptly left the region and imposed sanctions on Pakistan for pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

Officials listed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project and Indian lobbying as some of the main factors behind the growing  ‘anti-Pakistan narrative’ in Washington.

After US Congress blocked subsidy for the $699 million deal, PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in a policy statement last week admitted that Pakistan’s relations with the US has been on a ‘downward spiral’ for the last three months.

However, given the fragile nature of Pak-US ties, many policy makers in Islamabad were not surprised by the decision of US lawmakers.

“Our relationship with the US has always been like this,” said one official pointing towards the history of ups and downs in Pakistan-US ties.

The official recalled how Washington imposed sanctions on Pakistan under the Pressler amendment in 1989 which ultimately stopped Pakistan from taking possession of 28 F-16s, despite paying $658 million for the jets.

Many in Washington later admitted how the US made a mistake by leaving Pakistan ‘high and dry’ following the Soviet withdrawal of the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obamas’ administration pledged not to repeat those mistakes and initiated a strategic dialogue with Islamabad to dispel the ‘security centric’ impression of their ties.

However, recent developments such as the controversy over the F-16 sale as well as renewed US pressure on Pakistan to act against the Haqqani network and the nuclear issue show that “Washington’s interests are fast changing in this region,” commented another government official.

The official said US pressure tactics clearly show that it was trying to appease India, with whom it is aggressively expanding ties in multiple fields, including expanded defence cooperation with New Delhi as part of its pivot to Asia.

Another factor that has apparently sent ripples both in Washington and New Delhi is the CPEC, claimed the official noting that the US probably never thought that CPEC one day would become a reality. He suggested the US may be working with India to undermine the project.

“This is not just the issue of F-16 but there is [a] bigger game involved,” the official maintained.

The US is keen to counter China in the region as Beijing seeks to expand its influence.

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