Retuning US-Pakistan Interface
LAST year was the rockiest as stealthily moving mistrust bedeviled the strategic relations between Pakistan and the United States jointly fighting an 11-years unpopular war against terror in Afghanistan started since 2001.
It began with CIA contractor Raymond Davis shooting and killing two Pakistanis in broad daylight in Lahore, on January 27, 2010, then only worsened on May 2 when Osama bin Laden was killed in the unilateral raid by the US Navy Seals in Abbottabad. Tensions escalated further as the US began pressuring Pakistan to attack the Haqqani Network (HN), a Taliban group with alleged sanctuaries in North Waziristan. Pakistan showed its reluctance for obvious reasons of consolidating the gains achieved during previous operations in Swat, Bunner, Sangla, Bajoour, and South Waziristan. The standoff reached its new heights when the US accused that the militants who launched a 22-hour assault on the US Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, came from North Waziristan. Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lashed out against Pakistan, saying the HN was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Weeks of diplomatic efforts resulting in bettering the relations, but just as the situation stabilized, a NATO attack on a Pakistani checkpost in Salala on November 26, killing 24 Pakistani troops slide the relationship further deep down. Pakistan was furious, immediately suspending NATO supply lines and boycotting the Bonn conference on Afghanistan held in early December. These unsavory developments widened the mistrust between the two allies and made Pakistan more cautious, vulnerable and insecure.
Needless to say that a sharp contrast of policies and perceptions regarding the very basic issues in the war against terrorism has severely damaged the special status of Pakistan. In Washington, stories are being echoed for sidelining Pakistan and giving India a larger role in reconstructional efforts in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. The former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, while referring to this mistrust in both countries, calls for a “divorce,” in the US-Pakistan strategic relations as it has become dysfunctional relationship. “A post-alliance future would allow both countries to hold more realistic expectations of each other, cooperating where possible but perhaps without the sense of betrayal” said Husain Haqqani while addressing the Centre for the National Interest - a Washington think tank. Andrew J. Bacevich, in his article “Divorcing Pakistan: Simply put, the interests of Washington and Islamabad do not align” analyzed that as Pakistan no longer is quite crucial in an Afghan context, therefore, Obama administration now seems ready to declare this troubled union defunct. Supporting his argument, he says “when the US needs Pakistan, Washington showers Islamabad with money, weapons and expressions of high esteem. Once the need wanes, the gratuities cease, often with brutal abruptness. Instead of largesse, Pakistan gets lectures, with the instruction seldom well received”. What ever the case may be, defence strategists in the South Asia believe that Pakistan is a linchpin in rooting out terrorism from the region and US cannot succeed without Pakistan. Even after the reduction in NATO’s footprint in Afghanistan, the United States will still need the Government of Pakistan's cooperation on certain issues, particularly ensuring supplies reach the Special Operations/intelligence personnel remaining in Afghanistan after the bulk of the forces withdraw in 2014. Maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because they are important regional players.
The spike in incidents of misunderstanding and mistrust necessitates both the countries to take stock of the situation and retune their relations over how to move forward. Some of the factors creating mistrust are:
a. The lack of clearly defined objectives on the part of US works against a viable solution to the mistrust that dominates the US-Pakistan relationship. The general masses of Pakistan consider the Americans as a whimsical and mercurial master that desert the region when their national interests goes off.
b. The second factor that creates mistrust is the unnecessary tilt of the United States towards India, disrupting the present balance of power in favour of Pakistan’s traditional rival. A much bigger role is being given to India in Afghanistan, leaving aside Pakistan’s selfless contribution in eliminating terror threat from the bordering region. Pakistan has its reservations about the Indo-US civilian Nuclear deal initiated in 2005. There is a need to restore balance to this relationship by compensating Pakistan. Keeping in view Pakistan’s energy needs it is hard to understand why the US continues to deny an equivalent deal to Pakistan.
c. Another facet of mistrust between the two countries is the American claim that terrorists from Pakistani side of border enter Afghanistan and bring harm to civilians and the NATO forces. Likewise, on certain occasions Pakistan has claimed that the terrorists from Afghan side of border move to Pakistan and commit terrorist activities. The current issue has been raised after Pakistan lodged a serious protest with NATO and Afghan forces, on the cross-border attacks, which Pakistan claims were carried out by around 100 insurgents who had moved from Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar and had killed 13 Pakistani troops, beheading seven of them during the month of June 2012.
d. North Waziristan has been a source of mistrust in relations between the two allies. The US is pressurizing Pakistan Army for a military offensive against HN in North Waziristan along Pak-Afghan border which Washington says are the launching pad for violence in Afghanistan. But Pakistani military leadership has been resisting the American pressure by insisting that it was constrained by operations against militants in other areas and its efforts to consolidate the gains made in the fight against extremists. The Pakistan Military says it will undertake the operation into North Waziristan on the following conditions: 1) operation will be carried out at a time of its own choosing, 2) It will have political backing via parliament, 3) It will not be a joint operation with the US, and 4) It will be against foreign militants hiding in North Waziristan.
e. The US needs to recognise that its open use of drones to attack high value targets inside Pakistan has negative fallouts inside Pakistan that lead to widespread fear and hatred. The Americans consider that the drones are good weapon in targeting the terrorist’s sanctuaries in the tribal belt. But, hitting with this lethal weapon without the consent of the host country has sparked widespread resentment in Pakistan. This may be the time to reopen discussions on pathways of involving Pakistan military based in border coordination centres (BCC) in targeting decisions and rebuilding the intelligence cooperation that resulted in killing of many al Qaeda leaders in the past.
f. Pakistan has lost over 40,000 of their citizens, including over 5,000 military personnel, to acts of terror - besides billions of damage to its infrastructure over the past decade or so. The country’s economy has gone into tatters. Now, it is indeed the moral and social responsibility of the US to compensate Pakistan in overcoming its economic meltdown. The senior officials from both sides together are required to discuss the wide range of issues. Some of the areas where America can offer the Pakistanis real benefits are; plans for a Central Asian gas pipeline to cater energy crises, construction of large dams, poverty alleviation regimes, rehabilitation and developmental schemes in tribal area, development of economic zones in FATA, population control, achieving higher education goals, etc. On the security side, the United States need to identify what environment they are leaving in 2014 when they withdraw because that is going to affect directly Pakistan. Islamabad’s cooperation with Washington should be seen crucial to help stabilise the region before foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
The continuation of this mistrust for extended period of time will hurt not only Pakistan, but also have a long-term impact on the Pak-US relationships. In case efforts are not put in place to take advantage from the commonalities of interest, the Americans will soon realize the damage they have done to this strategically important region. Both the countries need to play their roles in their own side of borders and try to avoid playing a blame-game.