Are We Really Over?
The nature of Us-pakistan relations is such that it will never lead to a divorce.
A “question has arisen,” as Mahatma Gandhi would say. In the wake of the strain caused by the Raymond Davis affair and especially in the aftermath of the May 2 intrusion into Pakistan by US Special Forces, the question being asked is whether it is going to spell the end of a sixty-three year old “engagement.”
There is no question that Ampak relations never went beyond the level of engagement even though Pakistan bent ever so backward to prove that it was America’s “most allied ally.” But without accepting the claim, perhaps because it reeked of sycophancy, the US began to treat Pakistan as a vassal, so Ayub Khan had to plead that they should behave as “Friends not masters.”
Throughout the six decades mutual relations have been a mixture of high and low. But this time the level of acrimony seems to threaten a rupture.
After killing Osama, the US began accusing Pakistan’s intelligence agency of being complicit in hiding OBL. Pakistan sent back the US “trainers” of the Frontier Constabulary. This roiled Washington further because the “trainers” were a vital source of intelligence gathering. Meanwhile, there was a spike in Taliban attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. Despite the troop surge, America appears to be stymied. The most audacious attack so far was on September 13, when the Taliban attacked the US embassy and UN headquarters in Kabul and the firefight went on for about 20 hours. It so shook Washington that everyone who mattered went into conniption.
Soon there was a crescendo of angry outbursts with the common refrain that the Haqqani network has been attacking US troops in Afghanistan and therefore Pakistan must take full scale military action to dislodge it from its safe haven in North Waziristan. They even accused the Pakistani government and particularly the ISI of abetting attacks by the “Haqqani network.”
On September 17, the US ambassador in Pakistan, Cameron Munter, said there was “evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistani government. This,” he said, “must stop.” The next day in a meeting
with Pakistan foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded that Pakistan should take action on its own and jointly with the US in fighting the Haqqani network.
On September 21, in a news briefing at Pentagon, both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Adm. Mullen, adopted a bellicose posture towards Pakistan, with Panetta saying the US would take “whatever steps are necessary to protect our forces.” Later that day the new CIA chief David Petreus repeated the same message to ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha at their meeting in Washington.
On September 22, the Washington Post carried a story, based on briefings by US officials, saying that the United States had given “what amounts to an ultimatum” to Pakistan to cut ties with the Haqqani group and had warned that the US would “act unilaterally if Pakistan does not comply.” The same day, Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Haqqani network acted as a “veritable arm” of the ISI and the agency had supported Haqqani operatives in planning and conducting the attacks in Wardak and Kabul. “Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers,” he said. “The actions by the Pakistani government to support them — actively and passively — represent a growing problem that is undermining US interests and may violate international norms, potentially warranting sanction.”
At the same time Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Lindsay Graham, said that Pakistan must choose between America and Haqqani as its partners and Congressman Ted Poe from Texas introduced the Pakistan Accountability Act that seeks to “freeze all US aid to Pakistan with the exception of funds that are designated to help secure nuclear weapons.” Even President Obama weighed in. Addressing a news conference he said, “I think that they have hedged their bets in terms of what Afghanistan would look like. And part of hedging their bets is having interactions with some of the unsavory characters who they think might end up regaining power in Afghanistan after coalition forces have left,” adding, “But there’s no doubt that, you know, we’re not going to feel comfortable with a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan if we don’t think that they’re mindful of our interests as well.”
The blow hot blow cold game goes on. Side by side with the virulent attacks salve is offered as the White House distances itself from Mullen’s diatribe. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says about Pakistan, “They have in fact given us cooperation in the operations of trying to confront Al-qaeda in (tribal areas)… And they continue to work with us.” The disagreement between the two countries was over “the relations they maintain with some of the militant groups in that country.” Clinton said in an interview with Reuters: “We view the Haqqanis and other of their ilk as, you know, being adversaries and being very dangerous to Americans, Afghans and coalition members inside Afghanistan, but we are not shutting the door on trying to determine whether there is some path forward.” And according to media reports, US officials have held meetings with Haqqani network representatives as part of their efforts to strike a peace deal.
On the other hand, US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mark Grossman, tells Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kayani that Pakistan must go after the Haqqani Network and its alleged safe havens in North Waziristan. “We have concerns about the Haqqanis and Pakistan needs to address them.” Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, also conveyed Washington’s resolve to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani at a secret meeting in Saudi Arabia recently. “The U S wanted a relationship with Pakistan, but it also wanted the Haqqani attacks to stop,” he said offering Kayani three choices: “kill the Haqqani leadership, help us kill them, or persuade them to join a peaceful, democratic Afghan government.”
The first two of the three choices are prima facie absurdly simplistic. Kayani cannot agree to either because it would spell disaster for Pakistan. It is also doubtful if Pakistan enjoys the leverage with the Haqqanis to persuade them to “join a peaceful, democratic Afghan government” installed by the United States. However, though Kayani continues to reject military action in North Waziristan, there have been signs of thaw in the relations. Pakistan has agreed to take the “trainers” back. It has also quietly given a nod to unlimited drone attacks. Furthermore, the ISI recently captured five Al Qaeda suspects in cooperation with the CIA and delivered them to the US. America and Pakistan cannot live “without” each other. This is the hard truth both realize. Hopefully, Washington will see reason before making the situation murkier by taking any direct military action inside Pakistan.
Freezing economic and military assistance also may not yield the desired result. Instead of forcing Pakistan to supplicate, it would bolster self-reliance and pride among the people in their independence. However, if Pakistan “rethinks” its relations with the US as resolved in the All Parties Conference, the policy should be trade not aid. The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of Southasia Magazine.
Pakistan foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, with U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.