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Pakistan Reader# 388, 18 October 2022

A toxic and intimate relationship of US-Pakistan: Review of Daniel S Markey’s book "No exit from Pakistan"



The author presents warped timeline of Pakistan US bilateral relationship as a primer for diplomatic community

Ankit Singh

The author, Daniel S Markey, with his well-referenced literature and extensive interviews has tried to present nuances of the US’s policy vis a vis Pakistan and largely South Asia. The book also tries to give a voice to various factions and groups in Pakistan without whom the relationship cannot be considered mutual.  The book was written in 2013, at the stage of the second democratic transition after military rule. The background of the book is waning US interest in Pakistan as the war on terror was coming to a dead end and leaders in the US were divided on policy for Pakistan. At a point in the book, the author confesses that emerging powers in South Asia are a geo-political challenge for US and Pakistan (p-198). In this context, the author maintains that Pakistan is a conduit for the US to Asian geopolitics and US has been used by Pakistan in obtaining its national security goals. The title of the book with upper caps on “NO EXIT” and “PAKISTAN” tries to essentialize the above two aspects.

The book is divided into seven chapters, with the first and last chapters as the introduction and conclusion and the rest five chapters are used to explain the dynamics of the relationship. The first chapter puts forth the whole summary of the book and tries to justify the title. The US should not just exit from Pakistan for three primary interests, first, terrorism and its remnants, second, the tipped nuclear arsenal of Pakistan and lastly, Pakistan’s size, location and potential for instability and violence against Asian prowess and its relevance on the global stage.

The second chapter discusses four faces of Pakistan, first, is the elitist face, whereby Daniel Markey derives from the thesis of Stephen Cohen in his work ‘Idea of Pakistan’ and William Easterly’s ‘Growth without Development.' The author explains that change is seen as disruptive to the most powerful class in Pakistan and the elite class wields political power through energy, water and economic crises. The second face is the militaristic state, which is exterior in its stance and has been responsible for foreign policy formulation while the third face, ‘terrorist incubator’ exist because of regional political and social circumstances. The anti-west agenda is a common emotion and religion is used to reinforce the intolerance of western values which culminates in militancy. The fourth face, rather a distant reality, is a ‘youthful idealist’. The generational divide and urge for bold reforms with a massive youth population make Pakistan an interesting avenue for a youth-led revolution. Imran Khan has managed to fill that expectation gap with his rhetoric of anti-west and anti-drone policies. The four-faced Pakistan may then be seen as a ‘Hindu god’ with four faces, that is where the author leaves the interpretation to readers to understand the dynamism among the four faces. The attempt at a humanistic understanding of Pakistan feels incomplete and the reader is left wondering whether to look at the faces in isolation or if is there more to the story.

The third chapter tries to explain the same faces whilst hatred for the west and particularly the US. The three strands of hatred are liberal anti-Americanism, nationalist anti-Americanism and anti-Americanism of Jihadists. The anti-Americanism stems from various policies of the US, whereby it always supported military rulers and didn’t allow democracy to strengthen, it exploited Pakistan due to inherent weakness and disadvantages w.r.t India and ideological and doctrinal differences with the US. The author contends that anti-Americanism is a by-product between the US’s policy and Pakistan’s own internal decisions and dynamics.

The fourth and fifth chapter gives out numerous examples and cases where the relationship became perturbed, the trajectories which were drifting and took U-turns in the tortured relationship. Be it sanctions during Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998, while the opposite was witnessed during days of the war on terror when the AQ Khan network was unearthed. The typical American strategy of carrot and sticks particularly has been used not to expand the relationships but to keep the engagements transactional. In this context Pakistan can be expected to frustrate American objectives, while always at the receiving end Pakistan managed to remain tough, its cooperation was layered and it never put all eggs in America’s basket. Daniel Markey discusses various efforts by different presidents of the US to salvage the relationship with Pakistan had a deeper interest, for example, Kerry-Lugar and Berman Bill, which tried to provide political and diplomatic assistance up to USD 1.5 billion annually to Pakistan. The implication of accepting such a new loan was the normalization of usage of drones along the Durand line, and the CIA’s independent streak in Pakistan without routing the ISI directorate as was visible during the Raymond Davis affair. The expectation and frustrations dictated the drifts and U-turns as explained by the author.

The author in the sixth chapter tried to explain the relationship from an outside-in perspective through geopolitical lenses. In this chapter, the author tries to look beyond what has been there and paints a plausible geopolitical challenge in the strategic sphere of South Asia. The rise of China and India, the first being a strategic competitor and the latter being famous for strategic autonomy make Pakistan another alternative to US’s interests in South Asia. The author concludes at regional bipolarity between India and Pakistan hedged by the US and China respectively, however, the framework has been sought at convenience without looking at political and social interconnectedness in South Asia making it less prone to bi-polarization and it is a convenience rather than conviction to paint a South Asian cold war.

In the last chapter, the author has tried to put three options for American policymakers, defensive insulation with India and other regional partners, military-first cooperation, and comprehensive partnership. The first option is simply about the US protecting itself from threats emanating from Pakistan through military, economic, and diplomatic measures along with regional partners like India. The second option is military-first cooperation, through which America has cultivated behind-the-door cooperation with other difficult states. With regards to Pakistan, the objective would be to align and streamline the fundamental security objectives of Pakistan with the advantage of keeping the public eye away. The last option is seeking comprehensive partnership again, meaning cooperation with military and civilian leadership and cultivating governance and human development opportunities. The author himself confesses that there is no perfect path for America and as we can witness in the year 2022, defensive insulation is being utilized to choke terrorism and other threats economically.  Regional partners like UAE and Saudi Arabia have contributed their bit by holding the release of the financial needs of Pakistan to fend off its bailout problem.

Daniel Markey has done a significant contribution to the scholarly work on the US-Pakistan relationship since the advent of the new century, the framework is based on the short-term and medium-term outlook. However, the problems of jihad, hyper-nationalism, and elite basket are not modern, a deeper historical analysis is required to understand the state of degradation in not just Pakistan but India as well. The book would suit well for the diplomatic community and may disappoint ardent social scientists but for anyone with a whiff for great games, the book would provide critical and significant strands of geo-political trends in South Asia.

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