The ‘special relationship’ between the United States and Britain invests Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Pakistan on Monday with much significance. What is often overlooked is that Britain is the ‘brain trust’ of the ‘special relationship’. Cameron’s Middle East tour just ahead of the western intervention in Libya was a recent case in point. Britain manages to punch far above its weight in world affairs by virtue of its ‘special relationship’ with the US.
Cameron’s visit to Pakistan comes at a time when US-Pakistan relations have been passing through a rough patch. Washington is unable to schedule its trilateral meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The impasse is clearly unsustainable as there is a growing criticality in the Afghan situation and US cannot get very far if Pakistan continues in a mood of ‘non-cooperation’. Besides, Pakistan has been traditionally a provider of security for the Persian Gulf states – something that acquires new meaning when there is volatility in the region.
So, Cameron steps in with a solid agenda. It is unprecedented that his delegation included the top defence and security officials of the British establishment – National Security Advisor Sir Peter Ricketts, Chief of the Defence Staff Sir David Richards and the MI6 head Sir John Sawers. Obviously, Cameron’s priority was to tie up cooperation at the military and intelligence level. Cameron is making a huge bid to develop what he called an ‘unbreakable partnership’ between Britain and Pakistan. Britain is offering 650 million pounds as aid to Pakistan, both civilian and military aid. A new ‘enhanced strategic dialogue’ locks in the British and pakistani military and intelligence establishments in regular summit meetings. Pak army chief Ashfaq Kiani and ISI chief Pasha took part in the talks between Cameron and Asif Zardari.
Cameron made flattering references to Pakistan saying it is putting up a ‘huge fight’ against terrorism. He hit the nail on the head saying, ‘If Pakistan succeeds, we will make a step froward – if it fails, we will have all the problems of migration and extremism’. Evidently, Britain is estimating the critical need to have a broader, long-term security relationship with Pakistan against the backdrop of the reconciliation of the Afghan Taliban, which British intelligence is spearheading. Reports speak of former Taliban officials having visited London recently. The pattern of the ‘special relationship’ with US is such that Britain at times takes the lead or often steps in for the US if a need arises to do so. At any rate, Cameron’s visit to Pakistan underscores that the Anglo-American thinking continues to regard Pakistan’s role as pivotal in the Afghan peace process. Media reports hinted that Cameron assuaged Pakistani sensitivities regarding UK-India ties – a balancing act that Britain performs well tailored to the wishes of its audience.
– April 5, 2011