After months and years of negotiating, the verdict is in. America will sell us more F-16s, but they won’t just give them to us. Earlier this year, the American Congress considered blocking the sale completely. When this was defeated, our Ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani praised the US congress and said the vote was a “demonstration of strength of Pak-U.S relationship”. America will sell us the planes, however they are now saying that they will not help to fund the sale as it was expected. This has once again reversed the earlier good feelings and now Sartaj Aziz has declared that “Pakistan will buy F-16s from some other country if funding [from US] is not arranged”.
This issue is being discussed from the familiar views about American betrayal and Pakistani utility in a purely transactional relationship. But the one problem that is not being discussed is the rapid decline in our ability to negotiate with the Americans.
First let us look at the recent past.
In 2009, America held a rolling out ceremony for F-16s being delivered to Pakistan. Present at the ceremony was our own former Ambassador Husain Haqqani. Today we find Khawaja Asif accusing Haqqani of lobbying against a F-16 sale, but the question hasn’t been asked whether Haqqani has even been enrolled to lobby for our side, or at least to advise on how to improve relations with the American Congress.
Instead, what we see are increasingly strong media statements from Tariq Fatemi and Sartaj Aziz talking tough about F-16s that help heal our wounded pride, but they do nothing to actually help our cause. We seem to have become so obsessed with the success of Gen Bajwa-era information operations that we have forgotten that PR is only one
Today we badly misread American politics and find ourselves crowing about being beaten by Indian lobby at every stage, blaming our own former ambassador instead of enrolling him to help make our case, and even firing our own lobbyists. We thought that our role in Afghanistan would be enough to make us indispensable, or maybe we thought that Gen Raheel would charm the Americans like he charmed us…but it didn’t work…and we had no ‘Plan B’.
The first step to recovering is not actually to hire our own lobbyists, but to face the fact that we have a policy problem, not a PR problem. We need to stop blaming everything as anti-Pakistan conspiracy and start understanding how the rest of the world sees us and why. Instead of only thinking of new ways to make our case, we also need to rethink why our case stopped convincing anyone.