British PM’s Pakistan visit: some musings

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British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Pakistan visit was primarily meant to greet new government of Nawaz Sharif. The joint press conference of both David Cameron and Nawaz Sharif on June 30 was focused on strengthening of bilateral relations, especially in the fields of politics; economy and regional peace. On the sidelines of the official meetings both sides also discussed political transition in Afghanistan besides holding a threadbare discussion on the issue of Taliban’s office in Doha.

It is also an historical fact that whenever Pakistan’s relations with the United States get strained, UK intervenes to set things in order. In most of the cases such interventions render positive results thus bringing Pakistan-US relations back on track. It is an open secret now that Secretary of State John Kerry skipped Pakistan during his recent sojourn in the region only because the US is not happy with Pakistan on the issue of drone attacks.

Pakistan had reacted angrily to the last drone strike in North Waziristan sending loud and clear signals to the US administration that such acts would not be tolerated in the coming days. The most embarrassing moments for the US administration perhaps were when Ambassador Richard Hoagland was summoned to foreign office and handed over a strong demarche by Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi.

 As reported in the press, Tariq Fatemi was very tough on the drone issue and he made it clear to Mr. Hoagland such acts would not do any service in terms of promotion of friendly relations between the two countries. As reports suggest, Ambassador Hoagland took this encounter very seriously and sent a strong message to his head office. Consequently, the visit of John Kerry, which was supposed to coincide with his visit to India, was put off. Now after David Cameron’s Pakistan visit, John Kerry is likely to come to Pakistan somewhere in the last week of July, if everything goes well between the two sides.

When it comes to building stronger relations with Pakistan, both UK and US seem to have been suffering from same problem. Both these countries invest too much in Pakistan almost in all sectors but even then they have not been able to win hearts and minds of common citizens of Pakistan – a fact that continues to boggle minds of the highest echelons of power in these two countries. Ambassador Olson in his recent speech in Karachi rightly said, the US happened to be the biggest investor in Pakistan. Likewise, its contribution in the fields of health, education, politics, human rights etc had also risen to great proportions.  But, as said before, people still do not consider them as reliable partners.

There is a view in Pakistan that both UK and US are more interested in taking care of their own interests rather than interests of people of Pakistan. To substantiate their viewpoint they cite the instance of US and UK approvals of even military regimes whenever they are put in place. Pakistan’s history is full of military takeovers and one can find hardly any example when both these countries had decided not to work with the respective military governments. So much so, there is a vast majority in Pakistan that strongly believes UK and US would always support corrupt regimes in Pakistan because such are the governments that can better service their purposes.

One likes it or not, these are popular notions that need to be addressed by these two countries if they really are interested in helping the people of Pakistan. As regards relations with UK, a common perception is that the British government is taking a lenient view of MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s statement, especially when he announced to separate Karachi from rest of the country. The UK government moved quickly; announced to take action; a strong message was conveyed to Altaf Hussain but at the end of the day what happened –nothing as usual — and nothing may happen perhaps as usual for the reasons best known to all and sundry!! So under such circumstances it will be difficult to give pragmatic dimensions to bilateral relations. Actions should speak louder than words. Unfortunately it is happening other way round.

Despite all ifs and buts, one thing is crystal clear that Pakistan, UK and Pakistan, US relations are a reality. Their interests are interwoven and linked to one another’s wellbeing, especially when it comes . Therefore they need to build their relations on the basis of mutual trust and shared values. When it comes to resolution of Afghan imbroglio all these three stakeholders have a key role to exercise.

Summing up, Pakistan is passing through a critical, especially in terms of economic health. It direly needs some Oxygen so as to continue breathing in what is called a suffocated economic predicament. Here comes the role of friendly countries such as US and the UK. Now it is up to Pakistan as to how it seeks to exploit its relations with these and other friendly countries. The PML N governments have historically been far better than that of PPP’s in terms of good governance. Since it is their third time in office, people are pinning too many hopes on them. The PML N leadership strongly believes in policy of self-reliance so if the government is able to generate required funds on its own, as it had done during its previous stints, nothing is like that.

At the same time it is high time for both UK and US that they took seriously the problem of trust deficit and undertake genuine efforts to overcome this issue. If they think they can win hearts and minds of people of Pakistan by pumping in billions of pounds and dollars then perhaps  their bids to seek a trusted partnership with the Pakistani people would prove a wild-goose chase.