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New Delhi: In assessing the US’s turbulent bonhomie with Pakistan, Indian officials, analysts and commentators either deliberately, or out of oversight and ignorance, miss a critical aspect that dominates this bilateral tempestuousness: alluring Pakistani patronage of American officials through lavish hospitality, easy access to officialdom, well-articulated lies and military tourism.
“Pakistan’s track record shows that it is relatively easy for its Army to beguile American officials to its strategic, military and above all, its pecuniary advantage,” Christine Fair, author of Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War and co-editor of Pakistan’s Enduring Challenges, told The Wire.
Despite Pakistan continually funding and supporting the Afghan Taliban who, over years, had killed thousands of US troops, and regardless of it brashly developing tactical nuclear weapons, Washington has given Islamabad over $50 billion since 9/11, said Fair who spent over 15 years in Pakistan as a security analyst and learning Urdu and Punjabi. The US also provided Pakistan access to weapons systems best suited to fight Washington’s strategic ally India, rather than insurgents and terrorists it claimed to be battling, declared Fair who is currently a professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
“Pakistan’s military establishment manages to successfully woo large sections of the US’s public policy ecosystem like individual senators and Congress members, Congressional delegations, junior think tank analysts and even journalists by providing them unhindered access to its top military leadership and their organisations,” she said. Over decades, the Pakistanis have astutely studied what Americans like and work hard on how best to cater to their preferences, she stated.
The Pakistanis are quick, asserted Fair in spotting ‘potential’ in junior US officials and think-tank analysts and in investing wisely in them for ‘future mining’. For all of them, its military abandoned protocol and organised meetings with not only the Pakistan Army Chief of Staff, but also the Director General of the formidable Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISID), all the while unleashing its duplicitous charms upon gullible and naïve Americans.
“Consequently, US subway strap hangers from humble backgrounds were bowled over by the Pakistan Army’s feudal grandeur and showmanship and went away not only impressed and obligated, but also sympathetic to Islamabad’s cause and determined to plead its case in providing it material and monetary assistance,” Fair declared.
For instance, Fair said President Pervez Musharraf had once autographed a picture of her beloved pit-bull terrier during a brief one-on-one meeting with her when she was a junior analyst at the Rand Corporation think tank in California. And, soon after he even had the Pakistan Army band play her favourite tune at a private event arranged for a project team led by Peter Lavoy, who was then at the Naval Postgraduate School. Lavoy later went on to become assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs and remains an influential voice in US national security matters, especially those concerning Washington’s ties with Pakistan.
“Pakistani military and security officials are engaging, seemingly jocular and always charming as they deliberately set about miseducating American officials on a range of vital issues like their nuclear and F-16 programmes, Islamabad’s assistance to the Afghan Taliban and other equally vital matters,” Fair said.
And through this ‘lethal cocktail’ of charm and disingenuity, they managed eventually to inveigle their way into the upper echelons of US power centres like the Pentagon, the State Department and influential think tanks, said Fair.
Many retired Pakistani military officers – especially those on the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) tasked with managing their country’s nuclear weapons stockpile – end up securing post-retirement placements in US think tanks.
Tactics which pay rich dividends
Such finagling tactics paid Islamabad rich dividends earlier this month, when US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Adviser Jacob Sullivan and other senior State Department and Pentagon officials received the Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Washington to discuss bilateral military cooperation and regional security issues.
“This long-standing partnership continues today with discussions focused on the opportunity to address mutual defence interests,” a Pentagon statement had declared on October 4 as General Bajwa and Austin and other American officials celebrated the 75th anniversary of US-Pakistan ties.
Recent media reports also indicated that Pakistan, under subtle US influence, could soon exit the Increased Monitoring List or ‘Grey List’ of the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog body. Pakistan has been on this punitive list since mid-2018, and has been provided with a plan of action by FATF to complete, before becoming eligible to be pulled out from it. Security officials in New Delhi, however, said that despite being far from compliant with these pre-conditions, the US’s considerable clout with the FATF was reportedly in the process of ‘enabling and facilitating’ Islamabad’s exit at the plenary session in Singapore later this week.
Earlier, in September, the US had provided the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) a $450 million fleet sustainment package for its 65-odd F-16 ‘Fighting Falcon’ combat aircraft, to upgrade their power packs, overall structure and electronic warfare capability, for the implausible aim of boosting Islamabad’s counter-terrorism capabilities. In response to external affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s criticism of this aid package to Pakistan, US secretary of state Antony Blinken feebly and unconvincingly declared on September 28 that Washington was ‘obliged’ to provide Islamabad the money to ensure the PAF F-16s were suitably maintained to counter “clear terrorist threats” from Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Thereafter, speaking at a Democratic Party Congressional Campaign Committee reception in California earlier this month, US President Joe Biden had tersely declared Pakistan to be one of the ‘world’s most dangerous nations’ because of its cohesionless nuclear weapons programme.
Promptly a few days later the US State Department spokesman Vendant Patel did a U-turn and stated that Washington was confident of Pakistan’s commitment and ability to secure its nuclear assets. “The US values its long-standing cooperation with Pakistan,” Patel said soon after a meeting between State Department counsellor Derek Chollet and the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Masood Khan.
“Similar behavioural and mood fluctuations by Washington with regard to Pakistan were not uncommon and followed a set pattern, with numerous such past precedents in this stormy symbiotic relationship,” said Fair. But like on innumerable earlier occasions, such condemnations will doubtlessly be neutralised soon by effective Pakistani lobbying.
Americans, observed Fair unequivocally, find the ‘feigned candour’ of the Pakistani military officers refreshing. The few exceptions, however, to this public relations and charm offensive, and wholly impervious to it all, were the few US military and other officials who had served in Afghanistan from 2001 onwards and were familiar with ‘deceitful’ Pakistani doublespeak. But, over years, these groups were neither numerically enough nor organised collectively to counter the silver-tongued Pakistanis, who also successfully portrayed themselves as ‘victims’ of the US’s perfidious self-seeking foreign policy goals in the region, Fair argued.
According to Fair, a host of successive US embassy officials, including military attaches in Islamabad, visiting Congress members, analysts and even media persons, amongst others, were ‘utterly charmed’ after engaging with glib senior Pakistan Army officers. Alongside, their visits to the Army’s General Head Quarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the SPD, ISI headquarters and the Frontier Force base at the historic Bala Hisar Fort, were some of the much-anticipated stopovers for US officials, where grand hospitality, fetching take-away mementoes and equally elaborate, albeit disingenuous briefings, were organised for them.
Military tourism too was a part of this image management offensive, with helicopter trips laid on for visiting Americans by the Army and the ISI to the restive Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATA) along the Afghan border, the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA), a division-sized formation deployed along the disputed Line of Control with India in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and the breathtaking Khyber Pass and Swat regions. “With Toyota Hilux pick-ups, loaded with armed soldiers, zooming around with blaring sirens, it’s difficult not to feel important,” Fair admitted. And the Pakistanis were well aware of it and capitalised on it vigorously, she said.
What about India?
In contrast, the ambience was just the reverse in India for Fair, who over the years has also spent an extended period researching security issues here, as well as honing her linguistic skills, most recently in Chandigarh – where she spent months translating short stories from Gurmukhi into English.
She said India’s status-conscious officialdom was ‘disdainful’ of visiting junior analysts, Congressional delegations and random senators, who also simultaneously visited Pakistan where their access to the powers that be was unhindered. “Unlike Pakistani officials, their Indian counterparts were simply unable to comprehend that even junior Congressmen were influential in shaping US security policies,” Fair said. Hence, even though it was imperative that they be adequately briefed and instructed with the Indian viewpoint, it simply did not occur to New Delhi to do so.
“And even the meetings one does manage to secure, end up displaying less cordiality and more hectoring,” Fair observed. Thus the experience itself with Indian officialdom is less than pleasant compared to meetings with disingenuous Pakistani officials whose sophistry was more endearing, she said. Furthermore, this experiential difference matters to American officials and analysts new to South Asia and often ends up colouring their perception of both countries, invariably to Pakistan’s advantage.
“US officials view this standoffishness in Delhi with frustration and with suspicion,” said Fair. They contend that if India really was under threat from nuclear rivals and allies Pakistan and China – which it truly is – why were its officials not doing what the Pakistanis were to effectively publicise their precarious security situation, she asked.
“As a US citizen who believes that Washington’s interests are best served by a better and more robust relationship with Delhi, I appeal to the Indian leadership to adopt a more accommodating and flexible approach in dealing with Americans, and also consider employing war tourism as a part of its influencing strategy,” Fair advised.
In the end, she anticipated, both India and the US will benefit.