By Harold A. Gould
There is a venerable old saying, in Hindi, which declares: Ulti Ganga behti hai. It means literally that the Ganges River (Ganga) is flowing backward. It refers obviously to things going in the wrong direction, or upside down.
The fact that Pakistan conforms to this state of affairs, or that ‘Pakistan ulti behti hai’ is strikingly evident in the recent decision by the military dominated political establishment in Islamabad to blame the USA for all of the political ills from which the country suffers, and for the corresponding deteriorating relations between the two countries. Indeed, the moral responsibility for what has taken place, especially recently, like the waters of the Ganga, has definitely been flowing upside down, even after making allowances for the fact that historically speaking the U.S. is far from having been an angel.
Put another way, it is a case of the political basket-case condemning the basket’s donor for what has gone rotten inside it. By essentially de facto severing relations with the U.S., and for all practical purposes interdicting the supply lines winding through their country destined for US troops fighting in Afghanistan , thus compelling the U.S. to route the bulk of the supplies for its forces via the northern distribution network (NDN) through Latvia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia at double the cost , Pakistan’s leaders, both civilian and military alike, have been cynically biting the hand that has so munificently fed them for over half a century.
Such wolf-crying would be comic were it not for the horrendous strategic and human consequences which such childish political antics are having not only for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S. but for the region writ large.
What obviously makes the collapse of US-Pakistani relations in this manner especially unsavory is the fact that it comes after the colossal investment of treasure (literally billions upon billions of dollars) which the U.S. has poured into Pakistan over more than a half-century in what proves to have been a naive expectation that integrity counts ; that Pakistan would reciprocally become a stalwart US ally in the region , acting not only during the Cold War as a critical cog in John Foster Dulles’s cordon sanitaire around the Soviet Union ; act also as a strategic counterfoil to allegedly politically uncooperative India; and then in the aftermath of the Soviet Afghanistan misadventure, as a so-called ‘non-NATO Ally’ in the post-911 war against Al Qaeda, and the Taliban.
This pattern of Pakistani whining about being betrayed by its perennial benefactor and enabler is not new. It differs mainly in degree from the past, perhaps acting as prelude to today’s bizarre developments. It happened after all when the U.S. refused to support and legitimize Pakistan’s cavalier attack on India in 1965 during Gen. Ayub Khan’s tenure, and again in 1971when all the U.S. was willing to do was rattle a saber or two (e.g.,the Enterprise task force up the Bay of Bengal), and blandly call for a cease fire after Gen. Yahya Khan fomented war with India in the course of launching his genocidal attack on East Pakistan , soon to become Bangladesh. In both cases Pakistan cried ‘betrayal’ because they had deluded themselves into believing that U.S. military aid was tantamount to an alliance against India, when in fact it was never intended to be more than a strategic ploy in the Cold War.
So the present upside-down Pakistani blame-game is really an old story. Primarily a matter of cynical and opportunistic chickens having come home to roost!
The main cause for this denouement in U.S.-Pakistan relations is actually because Pakistan has from the beginning of its recruitment into the US strategic orbit been coddled like the proverbial omnipotent and special child - allowed to get away with rhetorical murder without being meaningfully called to account.
Interestingly, it was the recently unfrocked Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, who in an earlier incarnation (as a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment) had characterized his country as a ‘rental state’ cynically selling its military soul to whomever was willing to pay the freight. The fact that this has been perpetually the case in fact has a lot to do with the recent Memo-Gate flap, with Husain Haqqani (I think down deep everyone knows) surreptitiously attempting to induce the U.S. through Admiral Mullen to try and curb the capacity of the Pakistani military elite and their civilian adjuncts to continue subverting the country’s civil society while ‘renting’ the country to the jihadi extremists. Mr. Haqqani, after all, was close to Benazir Bhutto and the PPP when she was attempting to shorn Pakistan of Zia-fundamentalism and towards a genuinely civil society on the Indian and Western democratic models, and thus compatibly conjoined with American efforts to purge the Cold War residuum from the South Asian political environment.
In the present political atmosphere, however, chances are that whatever hope resided in this furtive and firmly unacknowledged Haqqani-Mullen undertaking is dead on arrival. There is every indication that the impending meeting between U.S. and Pakistani officials to try and reopen the supply lines and achieve a political understanding on matters of sovereignty and military cooperation will yield another version of the reverse-flowing Ganga. Because from the Pakistani standpoint as well as from the murmurings coming out of Washington, all signs point to the U.S. once more adopting an appeasement posture and acting as the contrite mentor, who avoids putting teeth in any serious demands for the fundamental changes needed in Pakistani political behavior - one that would put the Generals and the ISI under civilian control where they belong (one of the things that Memo-Gate sought); would play a positive role in purging the remnants of Al Qaeda; would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, and achieve a constructive peace settlement in Afghanistan.
Indeed, the Pakistan river will continue its ‘ulti’ course and the people of the blighted state will keep paying the price.
[Harold Gould is Visiting Scholar in the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia]