Hopes are rife that after a recent visit to Pakistan by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the rocky relationship between Washington and Islamabad may be headed for a period of stability.
The U.S. is like a Mother-in-law who is just not satisfied.
Hillary Clinton has had her ups and downs on her various trips to Pakistan and every time she has visited the country, she has come with a shopping list of wishes that she wants the Pakistanis to deliver for the U.S.
By the time the U.S. Secretary of State’s recent visit to Pakistan (Oct 20) came about, much more water had flowed under the bridge, many more US drones had wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent Pakistanis, Raymond Davis had had his day, Osama bin Laden had been ‘taken out’ and Washington’s troubled relationship with Pakistan had hit a new low.
Therefore, when the Secretary of State attended a town hall meeting in Islamabad, a female participant stood up and had no qualms in terming the U.S. as Pakistan’s impossible-to-please mother-in-law.
Quipped Shamama, a young lady who works for a women’s group in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: “We all know that the whole of Pakistan is facing the brunt of whatever is happening and trying to cooperate with the U.S. and somehow the U.S. is like a mother-in-law which is just not satisfied with us.” Her spontaneous remarks were met with a hearty round of applause from around the room.
“We are trying to please you, and every time you come and visit us you have a new idea and tell us, ‘You are not doing enough and need to work harder,’” she said.
Driven into a laughing fit, Clinton said she could personally relate to the lady’s perspective because she, too, was a mother-in-law. The Secretary of State’s daughter, Chelsea, married an investment banker last year in New York.
“I think that’s a great analogy I have never heard before,” said Clinton. “Now that I am a mother-in-law, I totally understand what you’re saying and hope to do better privately and publicly. “I personally believe this relationship is critical, important to us both, and therefore we cannot give it up,” said Clinton. “Once a mother-inlaw, always a mother-in-law, but perhaps mothers-in-law can learn new ways also.”
However, Hillary Clinton is not Pakistan’s first mother-in-law to have played tough with the country. This daughter-in-law has been meted out similar treatment by Hillary’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice as well as other senior US officials. The US chant of ‘Do More’ has become the theme song of the Us-pakistan relationship ever since 9/11 and the decibel level of the song has grown to a loud shrill over the years, much to the irritation of the government, military and people of Pakistan.
In a public interaction some two
years earlier, Hillary was asked why the United States micromanaged Pakistan’s affairs and why was there such a deep “trust deficit” between the two countries?
The troubled U.s.-pakistan relationship, almost always on the rocks, has become considerably rougher this year, following the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis who gunned down two Pakistani youth in the streets of Lahore and was later released under a hush-hush deal between the US and Pakistan governments. The covert raid by US Seals inside the city of Abbottabad that purportedly killed Osama bin Laden and recent allegations that Pakistan’s ISI had aided attacks on American targets in Afghanistan further fuelled the situation.
The U.S. may have given Pakistan a few billion dollars in military and civilian aid over the past decade to buy the country’s cooperation on the Afghan war, but the Pakistani people have never been quite happy with the approach adopted by the United States. The U.S. has appeared to be only interested in purchasing the country’s cooperation in its ‘antiterrorism’ offensives and not quite bothered in investing in a long-term bilateral partnership to build the people economically.
This time again, the focus of the visit by US Secretary of State along with the new CIA chief, David Petraeus and the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, was to push Pakistan to step up pressure on its side of the Afghan border and flush out the Haqqani network from North Waziristan, not in months but in ‘days and weeks.’ The American demand, in essence, is that forces from Pakistan and the coalition in Afghanistan should “squeeze” out the Taliban and allied extremists, such as the Haqqani network, which operates on both sides of the border.
Ms. Clinton, however, did praise the recent cooperation by Pakistan against al-qaeda as a model in how to crack down on the Haqqanis as well as the Taliban, reportedly based in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. “Because of intelligence sharing and mutual cooperation, we have targeted three of the top al-qaeda operatives since bin Laden’s death. That could not have happened without Pakistani cooperation,” she said.
The Obama administration is not asking Pakistan’s military to occupy its rugged border regions, the base for extremist groups that attack U.S., allied and Afghan forces on the other side, Clinton said in an interview after her two days of meetings in Islamabad. There are “different ways of fighting besides overt military action,” she suggested.
Hillary Clinton said she pressed Pakistan to fully share intelligence with U.S. forces in Afghanistan to prevent attacks and choke off money and supply routes. Better coordination might prevent incidents like the Sept. 20 assault on the American Embassy in Kabul, which the U.S. blames on the Haqqani network.
However, Clinton said the U.S. message to Pakistan was that the same insurgents who have launched lethal attacks against U.S. and Afghan targets may again unleash their violence and this time inside Pakistan. She said she had urged Pakistan to take advantage of the roughly 130,000troop, U.s.-led NATO force currently stationed in Afghanistan while they were still there as both the U.S. and NATO had begun pulling out troops and planned to hand over full security control to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.
Did Hillary Clinton’s two-day visit to Pakistan help Washington better understand Islamabad’s position? The Secretary of State did seem to acknowledge that help with a negotiated settlement is perhaps the best the US can hope for from Pakistan. Political analysts believe that the relationship between Pakistan and the US is now heading towards some kind of stability – at least for the time being.
“I think we’ve done a lot to clear the air,” Clinton told reporters during her stay in Pakistan. Quoting Kayani, she said that the two sides are “90% to 95% on the same page.”
In a radical shift, the US has agreed to meet the Haqqanis across the table. So far, Washington had been urging Pakistan to take military action against the Haqqani network inside North Waziristan, which the latter has been resisting though now Gen. Kayani is said to have agreed to go after the Haqqani group in a way that it would limit their space in North Waziristan.
The expectations of the US are that all groups involved in the so-called reconciliation with the Afghan government should renounce violence, disavow al-qaeda and recognize the constitution of Afghanistan. However, the Pakistanis don’t agree because there is still a lot more ground to cover before things can come to this point. It is obvious that considering the difficult situation Pakistan finds itself in dealing with the insurgents on its northern borders, it will have to play with fire for much longer before it can bring militants of various hues to the negotiating table.
Pakistan may have something to cling onto in the fact that the US is at last coming round to lending an ear to its genuine concerns regarding the fallout of the Afghan conflict. But you never know when the mother-inlaw may return – and ask Pakistan to ‘do more’! The writer is a freelance journalist and takes keen interest in Pakistani politics. He also writes on socio-economic and security issues of the region.