Tiffin Talk: US - Pakistan Relations Under Obama

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06 August 2015 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm

Upstairs Seminar Room, Australia India Institute, 147-149 Barry St Carlton, The University of Melbourne, 3053

Historically, US-Pakistan relations have largely followed a clientelistic pattern. The American patron needed a regional broker to contain communism, to play the middleman vis-à-vis China and to offer support in the post-9/11 “global war on terror”. The client needed arms and money to resist India, the neighbour that continues to overdetermine its foreign policy, and to satisfy its military – a state within the state craving for a comfortable life and sophisticated weaponry. This relationship was not based on any other ideological, societal or economic affinity, thereby contributing to make it somewhat shallow and unstable. So long as both countries had a common enemy – USSR – or tried to have common friends – China – and did not look at India in too dissimilar ways, their relationship was supported by at least some common ground. But these common denominators have vanished one after another. First, the fact that India has become closer to the US has indisposed the client. Secondly, China, Pakistan’s “all-weather friend”, has been perceived as a threat to an increasing number of Americans. Third, after the trauma of 9/11, the image of Pakistan has been badly affected not only by a rising, popular Islamophobia, but by the close relations that some Pakistani elements have cultivated with militant islamists.

In this context, the Obama administration and (even more clearly) Senators including John Kerry have tried to shift the emphasis from a security-centered approach to a more civil society-oriented one. But it has been handicapped by the limited power of Pakistan’s civilian rulers and the contradictions of its own agenda, long-term objectives in terms of development being undermined by short-term security-centered goals which has led the Obama administration – possibly under some pressure from the Pentagon – to recognize the Pakistani military as its main interlocutors. Once again, the military-based clientelistic pattern prevailed, the Pakistani army being the United States’ true partner, just as it was before.

About the Speaker

Christophe Jaffrelot is a nonresident scholar in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a senior research fellow at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) at Sciences Po in Paris. His core research focuses on theories of nationalism and democracy, mobilization of the lower castes and Dalits (ex-untouchables) in India, the Hindu nationalist movement, and ethnic conflicts in Pakistan.
He teaches at Sciences Po and part-time in the United States (Columbia, Princeton, John Hopkins, and Yale). He is also professor of Indian politics and sociology at the King’s India Institute and King’s College, London.
Previously, Jaffrelot served as director (2000–2008) and deputy director (1997–2000) of CERI. He is also former editor in chief (1998-2003) and director (2003–2008) of the quarterly journal Critique Internationale. Jaffrelot joined the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 1991 and was awarded the CNRS bronze medal in 1993. He became a CNRS senior research fellow of second class in 2002 and senior research fellow of first class in 2008. He was awarded the 2014 Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism in commentary/interpretive writing.
Jaffrelot is the author of six books including, Religion, Caste and Politics in India (Columbia University Press, 2011), and has edited seventeen volumes, including Pakistan: Nationalism Without a Nation? (Manohar and Zed Books, 2002).

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